Testing & Results
You can refer to the Argon cooler articles for more extensive details on how they were tested with the FX-8320 CPU. For getting temperatures from the Core i5-2500K, the process was pretty similar (although it goes without saying different components were involved). AIDA64’s built in stress test was utilized for both CPUs – once temperatures “plateaued”, peak temperatures were recorded and the ambient temperature was subtracted to arrive at a change in temperature (that you see in the chart below).
Motherboard: ASRock Z68 Extreme3 Gen3
System Memory: 8GB Crucial LP DDR3 1866 MHz
Processor: Intel Core i5 2500K
Audio: Asus Xonar DG
Video: Sapphire AMD Radeon 7970 3GB
Disk Drive 1: Western Digital Black 1TB 7200 RPM 3.5″ HDD
Disk Drive 2: OCZ Vertex 2 50GB SSD (Used as SRT Cache)
Enclosure: NZXT Phantom 820
PSU: Fractal Design Integra R2 750W
Monitor: Hanns G 27″ 1920×1200 LCD
Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
On the overclocked FX processor (consuming about 200W) we saw a pretty large disparity between the AR01 and larger AR03. Obviously, larger processors like the FX series and socket LGA 1366/2011 processors are the intended application for the AR03, but what about smaller CPUs like the Sandy/Ivy Bridge Core series? Are the two untouched heat pipes on the larger AR03 “wasted?”
I guess that depends on your definition of waste. The benefits of the larger AR03 are obvious on the larger FX CPU’s heat spreader (and increased thermal output), but you don’t really lose performance if you move the AR03 to a smaller CPU. Adjusting for ambient temperatures, the AR03 performs almost exactly the same, even with two heatpipes “wasted.”
In fact, it looks like my math wasn’t too far off. Looking at the i5-2500K result specifically, 24mm of heatpipes look like they perform very similar – regardless of how they’re packaged.
CPU Cooler Conclusion
All of this is just a way to say the obvious – a greater amount of contact surface area generally transfers a greater amount of heat. One could infer then, that a similar amount of contact surface area transfers a similar amount of heat, despite the platform. When choosing a cooler for your CPU though, contact pressure and surface area are probably the greatest factors for the ability of the heatsink to conduct heat. None of this is really new ground (as later uncovered by Olin Coles during an extensive thermal paste review) – many of these patterns have revealed themselves over the years that Benchmark Reviews has analyzed CPU coolers.
I have to wonder though, will all of these “truths” about CPU coolers slowly become irrelevant? As the physics of ever shrinking processors changes (and the nature of their heat output with it – one of the reasons I still like my i5-2500K over my i5-3570K) will we run out of space for any number of heatpipes? Cooler Master has notably experimented with vapor chambers on some of their CPU coolers – would technologies like this become necessary to extract heat from smaller and smaller CPU dies? The results haven’t always been promising, but perhaps it would fare better on a ultra-modern platform (would the faster heat-spikes of Haswell be tamed by such features)?
For now, when it comes down to it, choosing a CPU cooler might be as simple now as picking a price point – if there’s any pattern I’ve discovered, it’s generally “you get what you pay for.” I would assume manufacturers of higher-end CPU coolers end up testing these products far more in depth than I could at home. Of course, we’re always willing to test those manufacturer claims to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth – that’s why sites like ours exist! SilverStone was right in recommending the larger AR03 for an overclocked FX-8320 processor, but even on smaller CPUs the AR03 saw a little performance improvement (it just wasn’t as necessary on the smaller i5-2500K processor).
So does any of this matter when choosing a CPU cooler for your CPU? While there are many variables still to discuss, I’m not sure I could say you could pick a “wrong” cooler – they all cool better than the stock heatsink! Obviously there are coolers that are more appropriate for certain applications, but since the latest CPUs seem to be limited by their manufacturing process anyway you can generally let your budget and aesthetic tastes decide.