If you’re Apack, how do you surprise the rest of the cooling industry? Release a tower-style CPU cooler that doesn’t look like a butterfly. The new ZEROTherm Nirvana NV120 is that cooler, and luckily, it impressed. Could the Nirvana NV120 be our newest air-cooling champion?
All heatsink testing at Techgage is performed with three considerations in mind: repeatability, accuracy, and comparison. In order to achieve these three aims, it’s important to use a standardized testing platform for all measurements which are to be compared. In this case, the test platform is based around an AMD Athlon X2 “EE” model, which operates inside a 65-watt thermal envelope, similar to most Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs.
What’s most important, however, is that the test platform be consistent in its operation, so that the thermal margins provided by each CPU cooler can be directly compared – since it’s the proportional change that we really care about.
The test system is designed to simulate the airflow of a typical enthusiast PC, minus any extraneous heat loads provided by a separate GPU, massive hard drive arrays, et cetera. However, it seems that as CPU coolers continue to push the cooling envelope, and compact all-in-one watercooling solutions gain popularity, necessitating a greater heat load, the current test system may be pushed into obsolescence in the near future.
Before installing the cooler, a ball bearing-sized drop of Arctic Silver was spread into a thin layer using the sharp edge of a razor blade. During testing, Cool N’ Quiet was disabled, as well as the board’s “Q-Fan” smart fan control. The system was first allowed to reach a stable idle temperature for about 30 minutes before testing was performed. Then 3DMark 2006 was run with its default settings to load both cores, and the peak observed temperatures were recorded. Finally, the system was allowed to return again to a stable idle temperature, and the peak observed idle temperature was recorded.
Two things are apparent – first of all, with the Nirvana cooler, the CPU idles only a fraction of a degree from room temperature (18.5°C)! In addition, the Nirvana has a 27% advantage over the stock AMD cooler, and a 20% advantage over the recently-reviewed OCZ Vanquisher. I’d have no trouble believing the quoted 150+ watt dissipation capacity of the ZEROtherm Nirvana, and no qualms about using it on the fastest, hottest quad-core you can throw at it. This is excellent performance, any way you slice it.
The ZEROtherm Nirvana doesn’t make huge claims of silence – with the motherboard’s onboard smart fan control enabled, at idle the big 120mm fan didn’t even spin up, but with the control disabled, the noise produced by the cooler was very noticeable. Throttling the fan down to its minimum operable speed, it was indeed silent. Without a doubt, the Nirvana cooler offers enough thermal horsepower on tap that you’ll be fine to leave your CPU in its capable hands with thermal ‘smart fan’ control enabled.
And now for the wrap-up.
The Apack ZEROtherm Nirvana NV120 is the total package. It’s got the trippy name, the seductive finish, the big fan complete with blue LEDs… but the real question is, does it cool? Heck yes it does! It kept the 65W CPU close to room temperature at idle, and only a shade above that under strenuous load. I suspect the head-to-toe black chrome plating did the trick, providing a super-smooth contact surface on the base. The clip was easy to install, and the accessory pack was comprehensive.
Now for the nitpicks, what few there were. First of all, this cooler is BIG. On the test platform, the fan blades came within millimeters of adjacent RAM slots – meaning that if you’re on a particularly cramped motherboard and using all the available RAM slots, you may be out of luck if your RAM has tall heatspreaders. And, of course, there’s that goofy-looking adjustable fan controller that’s of dubious value. If you don’t like blue LED lighting (for whatever reason), this cooler might also not be for you.
In the end, I’m willing to let the good points outweigh the bad and award the ZEROtherm Nirvana a Techgage score of 9/10. If you were considering the bulky, expensive Zalman CNPS9700LED, the ZEROtherm Nirvana provides an attractive alternative at last.
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