Brace yourselves, summer is coming. As it happens every summer, the sales of advanced cooling solutions tend to increase this time of the year. This year a little more than usual, as many enthusiasts likely found the perfect excuse for an upgrade in light of the new Windows 10 release. Rising temperatures are a concern for both the casual user, who usually is just psychologically stressed by the higher temperature readings, and the advanced enthusiast, whose overclocked system is now facing random stability issues. And of course there are those who are simply annoyed by the increasing noise of their current cooling solution and are in need of something less intrusive.

Liquid-based cooling solutions are becoming easier to install and AIO kits generally are hassle-free, yet they are still not favored by the majority of the users. Their space requirements, increased complexity and price hold most people to simple air-based cooling solutions. After all, most advanced users are not quite convinced about the performance of AIO coolers to begin with, with some even claiming that air-based solutions can be as good or even better.

We have not had a review of simple air-based cooling solutions in a while here in AnandTech. With a new advanced testing setup and equipment, it makes sense to begin with roundup reviews, which present multiple current solutions and create a healthy reference database. However, there are thousands of air-based cooling products available and almost every one of them is designed for a specific purpose and target group. We had to start from a single category, therefore we simply requested from a number of companies to ship us whichever product they consider their best. Nine companies answered our call, alphabetically listed in the table below.

Product Fans Fan Speed
(RPM)
Current Retail Pricing
be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3 1 × 135mm
1 × 120mm
1400
1700
$86.50
Cryorig R1 Ultimate 2 × 140mm 700-1300 $196**
Logisys (DeepCool)
GamerStorm Assassin
1 × 140mm
1 × 120mm
700-1400
1200
$56.90
Noctua NH-D15 2 × 140mm 300-1500 $93
Phanteks PH-TC14PE 2 × 140mm 700-1200 $80
Raijintek Tisis 2 × 140mm 600-1000 64€ (≈$72*)
Reeven Okeanos RC-1402 1 × 140mm
1 × 120mm
300-1700
300-1800
60€ (≈$66*)
SilentiumPC Grandis XE1236 2 × 120mm 500-1500 £34.90 (≈$45*)
Thermalright Macho Zero - - $65 (no fan)

*As these coolers are not available in the US at the time of the review, these are the average retail prices in USD, excluding taxes.

**The Cryorig R1 Ultimate currently is available only through a foreign store registered in Amazon.com that ships from Korea. The current retail price is extremely bloated, far above the MSRP.

The Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 3
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  • marraco - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    Something really important that never is reviewed is dust control and maintenance.

    As radiator fins get closer, they have more dissipation area, but air flow gets worse. Yet the main problem of fins closeness is that they accumulate dust much faster, and get occluded.

    No review makes a dust test. I have a Thermaltake cooler, which works excellent when is clean, but it rapidly loses his capacity due to being occluded by dust.

    The easiest way to remove his dust is to use canned air, but it is a short lived fix, because an air cleaned radiator occludes itself very fast, sometimes in matter of weeks.

    The only way to clean it for good is to take out the dissipator, and put in in the dish washer. But that is a cumbersome task. I need to do a lot of work just to clean it, and I need thermal paste to place it again on the motherboard.

    So, maintenance is as important as cooling and noise.

    A good cooler should pass a dusting test (being exposed to a day of dirty and dusty air current), and should be possible to clean it without much hassle, without applying thermal paste, without using screws, without need to access both sides of the motherboard, and without his pegs breaking or being degraded by manipulation.
    Reply
  • 'nar - Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - link

    Interesting concern. It makes sense, yet is never considered. I think the best answer is the same as electricity, you need to provide the best environment you can for your computer. Higher quality components are more sensitive to dirty power, and dusty air. Get that PC off the floor, and get a case with good dust filters. And if your room is bad enough, get an room air filter. I have one on my desk right in front of my PC. A Honeywell HEPA air filter. Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    I understand why cases are tested with stock fans, replacing 3+ quality fans will significantly alter the price equation... It's a trivial difference for $50-100 heatsinks tho, many are often even sold sans fans anyway.

    If nothing else, a single apples to apples test with all running the same fan would've been welcome. In addition to something like the Hyper 212 as a baseline, the different Thermalright TRUE Spirit variants have remained a solid value over the years (they perform better than the 212 and even closer to some of these as per HardOCP's last roundup).

    Is there gonna be a midrange roundup? Spending upwards of $65 on an air cooler never made much sense to me when more affordable options were so close in both noise and performance. Out of 9 coolers tested only 3 or so come in at a sensible price, at $75+ wouldn't it make more sense to go AIO WC?
    Reply
  • xthetenth - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    If you want low noise, good thermals and dead quiet idle well into the land of diminishing returns, high end air is still a very compelling alternative to water, especially if you're willing to put the effort into some ducting.

    However midrange products can be excellent and are well worth a good long look before hanging a hundred bucks off your socket.
    Reply
  • 'nar - Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - link

    I was a HSF fanboy until I actually needed a water cooling system. Specs and testing does not show response time. Fast, transient loads can overwhelm a HSF, as heat pipes cannot transfer heat as fast as water. For low power CPU's a HSF is fine, but when you go over 100 watts the noise is less of an issue, as a HSF will need much more airflow to compare to the higher heat transfer ability of W/C. And instantaneous loads are more likely to cause system instability due to the less efficient heat transfer rates of heatpipes. Reply
  • meacupla - Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - link

    I am going to nitpick on what you're saying there, because you have it confused.

    Heatpipes use some form of vaporized liquid inside and they actually transmit heat quite good, especially when compared against sold copper rods. Where they fail, is that they do not have a lot of capacity for transferring large amounts of heat.

    Water is actually quite poor at transmitting heat, as it's a non-metal and an insulator. It does, however, have great capacity to hold heat.

    This is why large bodies of water are warm during winter and cold during summer and results in mild weather near the coast and extreme weather in the interior.

    The advantage of water cooling systems, over air cooling, is the ability to place large radiators, with a lot of surface area, in spots that get fresh air from outside the case, instead of warmed up air that is already inside the case. Heatsinks are also limited to size and weight constraints around the socket.

    Were it possible to attach a triple 120mm fan heatpipe heatsink, as in parallel layout, instead of serial dual towers, directly to the CPU, I'm quite sure the results would be similar to a 360mm radiator water cooling setup.
    Reply
  • xthetenth - Tuesday, July 7, 2015 - link

    Yeah, he's describing the thermal mass of the coolant, not any transfer capability. It seems that running coolant through radiator fins does have an advantage of relying on the fins to radiate the heat out from a heatpipe, but for a similar surface area, it's questionable how large the advantage is, especially at CPU TDPs.

    GPUs on the other hand have a more constrained form factor for large air cooling and a higher TDP, so they are a more promising place for CLCs.
    Reply
  • PitneFor - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    wheres Prolimatech, my precious... Reply
  • mejobloggs - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    I'd be very interested to see a size-per-performance chart.

    I usually buy coolers that perform the best without being too large. Although I guess "Top Tier" coolers isn't the right article to look for smaller size coolers :p
    Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    Leaving it to the manufacturers to select their entry is always messy or questionable IMO, TR choosing the Macho over the Silver Arrow for one... Still curious whether there's a midrange round up planned or if this is it for air coolers at AT for a couple more years...

    Despite the criticism I do appreciate E Fyll's thorough process, otherwise I imagine I and many others wouldn't even bother commenting. Low end (212+) and high end ($120 AIO?) base lines would make the article much more useful tho.

    The into even suggests some people prefer high end air over WC at the start but then leaves that up in the air... No pun intended.
    Reply

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