This won’t be a full product review of either cooler, and I’m going to assume that you’ve read the SilverStone Argon AR01 and AR03 product reviews. If you haven’t, feel free to do so as those articles will explain in detail the CPU cooling testing procedures we use at Benchmark Reviews. Keep in mind this article uses two different platforms though, so there are a few more variables to potentially get in the way – while the results may not be scientifically exact, I bet there’ll be enough of a trend to possibly draw some conclusions. With that said, just what ARE we looking at here?
Well, SilverStone has a total of three coolers in the Argon line – the 120mm 3-heatpipe AR01, 92mm 3-heatpipe AR02, and 120mm 6-heatpipe AR03. Each of those coolers are designed for a different purpose, and are tweaked to address different parts of the cooling market. The smallest AR02 cooler is for space-constrained systems. The 120mm AR01 appears to be a direct competitor for Cooler Master’s popular Hyper 212 cooler, and the larger AR03 adds even more size and performance to complete the lineup.
The cooler that really spawned all of these questions is the Argon AR03. Since it is the larger of the two heatsinks with six direct-touch heatpipes instead of three like the AR01, the base is correspondingly larger to accommodate them. As you can see in the picture above featuring the AR03 and a Core i5 2500K processor (Socket 1155 / Sandy Bridge), only four of the six heatpipes actually touch the heat spreader of the processor.
Compare that to the thermal paste imprint of an FX-8320 CPU (Socket AM3+) and you can see the heat spreader on this processor is covered entirely by all of the heatpipes on the AR03. That’s the same heatsink with two different CPUs. Just by looking at the pictures, could we assume we’re leaving some performance on the table? Are those two untouched heatpipes useless on the smaller CPU?
Enter the AR01. Designed for smaller and more mainstream CPUs with less cooling requirements, the base of the AR01 has the opposite problem. It covers the smaller socket 1155 CPU almost perfectly, but leaves some of the larger FX CPU’s heat spreader uncovered. You can see in the photo above there is some space remaining on the sides of the heatspreader that is untouched by thermal paste (even after being smeared around a bit while mounting/removing the heatsink). Look for the lines caused by the edges of the heatpipes – this is essentially the “useful coverage area.” The smaller Argon AR01 cooler uses only three heatpipes, but they are eight millimeters wide (compared to the six 6mm pipes on the AR03).
Above you can see how the AR01 fits on Intel’s mainstream socket vs. AMD’s AM3+ FX CPU. It’s tough to tell on the Intel CPU because of the perspective, but those heatpipes barely cover the heatspreader – on the FX CPU, there’s a few millimeters on each side that are covered by the base (but not the heatpipes themselves).
Some really simple rough math gives us 24mm of contact surface for each cooler on the 1155 socket CPU (that’s 4 pipes touching x 6mm for the AR03, 3 pipes touching x 8mm for the AR01). If everything else were equal (which they aren’t, but let’s simplify this a bit) could we assume the cooling capabilities of 24mm of heatpipes are going to end up the same on smaller sockets? Let me rephrase that to be a little more consumer-relevant: Is there a point to buy the AR03 if you have a smaller CPU, or will the AR01 perform the same on those smaller sockets?
We’ve already seen how each cooler performs on the overclocked AM3+ testbed, so let’s see how they compare on a smaller CPU.