Date: July 27, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
Need proof that sufficient CPU cooling doesn’t need to be expensive? The ~$45 Zalman CNPS7X LED is it. Taking after the design of the much more expensive CNPS11X, the CNPS7X uses fewer heatpipes and a smaller 92mm fan, resulting in a modest size and silence – even with a decent CPU overclock under its belt.
When it comes to cooling, Zalman needs no introduction. The company has been around long before I first became heavily interested in computers and hardware. From cases to power supplies to GPU coolers, Zalman covers most bases. On the review table today is one of its latest in a long line of CPU coolers, the CNPS7X LED. It offers a twist on a design that has been used sparingly in the past and promises high performance while creating as little noise as possible.
The CNPS7X is the smaller brother of the CNPS11X Extreme. Some of the features have been scaled back a bit, but the overall V-shaped look is still present. The 58 rows of aluminum fins are soldered to the U-shaped copper heatpipes and 56 of them are broken up into two separate sections, one for each end of the heatpipes. The exception are the top and bottom fins that span the entire width and are stamped with the 7X logo to give it a finished look.
With the fan removed, we can see that the center of the cooler is hollow. This may appear strange to some but there is actually a dead spot directly behind the fan motor. Air doesn’t tend to flow well there until it is pushed further away and that’s the reason why some people use spacers between the fans and radiator in water cooling setups. Zalman chose to do away with this area since it would not be efficient, but it provides another bonus in that it keeps the weight of the cooler as minimal as possible.
The number of heatpipes has been reduced from that of the CNPS7X’s bigger brother, but don’t let that get you down because there are still three of them – but they are different than most. Sure, they run through the fins and make up part of the base that directly contacts the CPU but they are also what Zalman calls ‘composite heatpipes’. Each offer different technologies to help with heat transfer; a sintered wick as well as axial grooves to draw liquid back down to the hottest area once it condenses at the top. These composite heatpipes claim to improve heat transfer by 50% when compared to standard ones.
So we know that the base is made up of the heatpipes, but there is also an aluminum block that fits over them to form the rest of the block and fills in the gaps while pulling heat away. The finish on the base is quite good but I was able to find some heavier machine marks, although they are few and far between and would not show up no matter what was done during the photo shoot. When checked with a straight edge on both axis, the CNPS7X was completely flat, however there are very small gaps between where the aluminum block and heatpipes are situated.
The fan has also been reduced to 92mm but retains the blue LEDs. This time, the fan is attached by a wire clip on each side and carries the part number ZE9225BS (ZM5L-PWM). A quick search for any hint of the OEM turned up nothing but the official specifications show that it runs at 1,500 revolutions per minute (RPM) at 20 A-weighted decibels (dBA) in “Quiet Mode” or 1,950 RPM at 25 dBA. There’s no mention of how much air it moves; the static pressure or what type of bearing is used.
The cooler comes ready to install on AMD AM2 and newer systems but for those with Intel systems there are two different mounting platforms included. One is for LGA775 and 1156/1155 while the other is for LGA1366 and both use the push pin method. In a separate bag are four mounting pegs for each Intel platform, a RC33P resistor cable that allows the fan to run in “Quiet Mode”, a small packet of Zalman’s ZM-STG2M Super Thermal Grease, a case badge and fold out instructions.
If we were to go on looks and specifications alone, this is one clean looking cooler with a ton of potential, but it’s up against some stiff competition when installed into our test system.
As mentioned, AMD users are good to go. Just spread some thermal interface material on the CPU, loosen the screws that secure the metal loops on either side of the cooler, slip the loops over the plastic tabs on the cooler mounts and tighten them back down.
Luckily things aren’t much harder for Intel users. For LGA775 and 1156/1155 systems the correct socket must be selected by moving the indicator on each of the pins before pressing the platform down around the CPU socket. Since LGA1366 systems have a dedicated platform, users can just put it in place and go. The correct pegs are then push down into the openings in the four corners forcing the pins to spread and lock in place on the other side of the motherboard.
Next, the cooler goes on much in the same fashion as an AMD system. Loosen the screws that secure the loops on either side, put them over the tabs on the platform and tighten them into place.
The instructions say that the screws holding the loops in place should be completely removed but this is not necessary, at least in LGA775, and LGA1156/1155 systems. I found it easier simply to loosen the screws to allow the loops to move back and forth and as you will see, this ended up being a necessity. The cooler comes with the loops in place for the above sockets so LGA1366 users will need to remove the screws to move the loops to the outside position in order to fit the larger socket.
The heatsinks around the socket on our test motherboard caused a conflict when it came time to install the cooler. This was noticed before locking the platform down, so it was easy enough to fix. By only loosening the loops the cooler was placed onto the platform and then both were installed at the same time. The pins were then pushed down, locking the platform in place, and the screws that secure the loops were tightened to finish the installation. The tabs on the platform just barely came into contact with the heatsinks, so installing the cooler after the platform would not be an option because there wouldn’t have been any room to slip the loops over them.
From start to finish the entire installation process took only about 15 minutes and that was after learning about the clearance issues. If it weren’t for that, I’m sure I could have kept it at single digit minutes. This means less messing around with a complicated mounting system and more time testing and enjoying your new toy, which I doubt anybody will complain about. Here’s the finished product:
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option within the BIOS to Auto. and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 3.85GHz was obtained after setting the base clock to 107 and the multiplier to 36. Our locked CPU was able to do this on stock voltage so the vcore was raised to 1.25V to generate additional heat.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process. All fans are run at 100% during testing and all coolers have any pre-applied thermal interface material replaced with Zalman’s ZM-STG1 Super Thermal Grease due its ease of application that virtually eliminates the possibility of skewed temperatures due to poor surface contact.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU temperature. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-2400 – Quad-Core (3.10GHz)
ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution – P67-based
Corsair Dominator 1x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
AMD Radeon 5450
Kingston/Intel SSDNow M Series 80GB SATA II SSD
Corsair HX650 650W
Thermaltake Armor A90 Mid-Tower
Zalman CNPS7X LED
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
And the results!
I feel bad pitting a cooler like this against the rest of the pack, because they are clearly aimed at a different type of user. The Zalman cooler was able to keep temperatures in check but without another air cooler to compare it to, it’s at a disadvantage – although I think the results do paint a very pretty picture.
Given that the thermal limit of our test CPU is 72.5 degrees Celsius, I’d say that the CNPS7X does the job incredibly well. It can’t quite stand up to the liquid coolers but only allows the CPU to get 2 degrees warmer than the H50.
Perhaps the best feature of all is the fact that this cooler is dead silent whether running with the resistor cable or not. Even at full speed the only sound made by our test system was the sound of air being pushed.
From looks to performance to sound, it seems like CNPS7X has everything wrapped up. Speaking of which…
You cannot really compare the performance of the CNPS7X to that of the Corsair units and expect to get an accurate representation of where it stands. Luckily, there will be many more cooler reviews in the future and our temperature database will continue to grow. This will give a better idea of whether any of the coolers we review are truly worth the money.
This cooler makes my personal system sound like a jet engine, so I am extremely jealous of the fan that’s used. Even at only 92mm, which is no longer the norm, it does a great job of keeping our overclocked CPU well within the thermal limits and adds nothing to the level of overall noise generated.
Keep in mind that higher-end boards with heatsinks may run into clearance issues as ours did. This obviously isn’t the fault of the Zalman design team so I can’t count this as a strike.
I wouldn’t normally mention the method of removal, but in this case I did not see one and there was nothing mentioned in the instructions. After some Indiana Jones stealing the idol-type contemplation, I ended up gently wedging a small precision flat-head screw driver under the outside edge of one of the pegs and rocked it from side to side. The peg released, so I did it for all four without trouble. This could result in some damage over time seeing how the pegs are plastic.
A quick email to Zalman provided another method of pushing the pegs up from the backside of the motherboard using two plastic cards stacked on top of each other. Once the pegs are pushed up far enough, they can be removed from the front side and the platform can be removed. For those without a cutout in the motherboard tray of their case, or for those with one that doesn’t quite line up as ours does, the motherboard would need to be removed in order to use this method.
A paltry ~$45 will net you the CNPS7X and that is a bargain for anybody. The cooler looks great, is incredibly easy to install (I’d like to see this mounting system used more often), performs well even while handling a mild overclock and some extra voltage – but best of all it adds nothing to overall system noise.
Even with the odd removal method, this cooler is too good to pass up. If I didn’t run the system that I do the way that I do, I’d run out to the store and pick one up myself. It’s a great cooler aimed at those who need significantly better cooling than the stock cooler can provide and want to keep sound levels at a minimum.
Zalman CNPS7X LED CPU Cooler
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