Kingpin F1 Dark

Kingpin F1 Extreme Dark Cooling Pot Review

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Overclockers have always been a bit extreme – we take hardware many people are perfectly satisfied with and then push every last MHz we can out of it within our cooling limits. Some choose air cooling, some choose water cooling. There are a few brave souls that use water chillers, but mostly those are benching operations only.

Then there are the, well, for lack of a better phrase, there are the crazy people. I’m proud to be one and many members of our benchmarking team are too, as are a growing number of the overclocking crowd. You see, when you get into benchmarking, air and water just aren’t enough to satisfy your thirst for that extra 3D Marks or thousandth of a second. No, we truly go to extremes using things like dry ice (with acetone to help spread the cold) and liquid nitrogen.

It is to these overclockers k|ngp|n has dedicated a good portion of his craft. He started out making cooling pots quite a while ago, then turned his successful benchmarking ability and industry know-how into a career with EVGA. Thankfully he hasn’t stopped producing pots.

Today is dedicated to his latest work of art, the Dragon F1 Extreme Dark. It’s very functional of course and we’ll get to that, but this thing is a great looking piece of hardware. Don’t take my word for it though, have a look for yourself.

k|ngp|n Dragon F1 Extreme Dark

 

Kingpin F1 Dark

"Sun" Rising on the Kingpin F1 Dark

The Dragon F1 Extreme Dark (or F1 Dark) is milled out of a massive hunk of copper and retains a whole lot of mass itself. Its distinctive looking dark look comes courtesy of nickel plating on the exterior. Emblazoned with the F1 emblem many will recognize from his first F1 Extreme Edition (or F1EE, which was copper sans plating and has been discontinued for a long time now) and “KINGPINCOOLING”, branding has never looked better.

Kingpin F1 Dark

Kingpin F1 Dark

Kingpin F1 Dark

Kingpin F1 Dark

F1 Dark on White

F1 Dark on White

The plating stops at the interior lip and opens to un-coated copper. On the sides without markings, there is as close to perfectly smooth machining as you’re going to get.

Mirror Finish

Other Side Finish

The base is a mirror finish just like the rest of the pot.

Bottom Mirror Finish

Bottom Mirror Finish

Bottom Mirror Finish

Bottom Mirror Finish

On one side of the bottom, you’ll see a hole for a temperature probe.

Temp Probe Hole

Temp Probe Hole

For those unfamiliar, you put a K-type temperature probe in there with some thermal interface material and then run the cord up the side of the pot under the insulation so you can hook it up to your thermometer. This is absolutely necessary on any chip with a cold-bug (current- and previous- gen Intel), but also comes in handy for testing non-cold-bug chips (previous- and current- gen AMD) so you can monitor temperatures and ensure you’re as cold as you need to be.

Here’s a small shot of the interior to show the non-plated side walls. k|ngp|n requested we not show any internals for the review. They are out there if you look hard enough.

Inside Copper

Inside Copper

If you have ever seen one of the many photos around of the original F1EE, this design is very similar with some slight variations. The hole pattern is the same but there is more spacing between the holes, indicating there is slightly more mass than the original and that it may be a bit wider. Based on my experience with one previously, performance is very similar.

Temperature control and stability performance in cooling pots comes from two things – surface area and mass. The holes in the bottom of the pot give you the necessary surface area. There are pots with more that perform differently and are generally better for dry ice; the discontinued Koolance V2 pot is a good example. Those with more surface area tend to respond faster. The F1 Dark is built for more control and stability, generally with LN2, than those with more surface area.

That leads to weight. This pot is h-e-a-v-y, heavy. My former pot, Giraffe Pot, was no lightweight, but the F1 Dark is heavier than even it was. There is a lot of mass in the F1 Dark, which again lends itself to better control and stability.

Installation Hardware

There is a solid mounting kit included, with a black anodized aluminum back plate in which you screw four threaded rods. There are holes for most sockets currently benched including AMD sockets 754, 939, AM2 and AM3 as well as Intel sockets 775, 1156/1155 and 1366/2011.

Accessories Pack

Accessories Pack

Accessories

Accessories

IMOG ordered one of these shortly after they were released and showed one potential weakness of the mounting kit – the threaded rods can potentially bend in shipping. It’s not a huge deal and is still easy to use even with a slight bend, but the potential is there.

The hold-down bracket is solid with a slightly rubbery feel. It fits the pot snugly and is made to be plenty durable throughout many sessions. It ought to be – a replacement hold-down set is $55.00.

Mounting Bracket

Mounting Bracket

Not photographed is neoprene insulation that should be included. You get a motherboard-sized sheet of it, which is handy as a benching platform if you don’t have a benching station; you can see this in the photographs below, and a length of tubular insulation for the pot itself. If you find yourself needing more, the proper inner diameter is 2-5/8″ (by 1/2″ thick) and can be purchased will-call from Grainger for $10.50 per six-foot length, which is plenty…and then some.

F1 Extension – Full Pot Goodness

If you bench AMD much, you’ll quickly learn the value of full-pot benching. Fill-it-and-forget it (temporarily of course) is a very fun way to bench on a chip with no cold bug. To help with that you can also order (separately) an F1 Extension. These are slated to be anodized in the future but currently available models are raw aluminum, which is fine by me…they look good contrasting with the F1 Dark. The extension can be had for an additional $55.00.

F1 Extension

F1 Extension

F1 Dark and Extension

F1 Dark and Extension

Extension Installed

Extension Installed

Extension Installed

Extension Installed

$55.00 seems a bit steep for a relatively simple piece of aluminum, especially considering the pot’s cost, but where else do you plan on getting one?

Quick Giraffe Pot Side-by-Side

Like the heading says, here is a photo of the two side-by-side.

F1 Dark vs. Giraffe Pot

F1 Dark vs. Giraffe Pot

You can see why it’s was dubbed Giraffe Pot. The internals of Giraffe pot offer more surface area (reference this post) than the F1 Dark, so it probably pulls down a little faster with DICE. The F1 Dark weighs more and it shows when benching with a full pot, though to its credit, a full Giraffe pot lasts longer than a full F1 Dark, for obvious reasons.

With regard to installation, the F1 Dark comes out ahead by far, it was much easier to install and the hold-down bracket material is much more solid and able to cope better with the extreme temperatures at which it will be used. Giraffe Pot’s bracket literally shattered in four pieces and is super-glued together.

Installation

Installation is pretty straightforward. Find the holes that match up with your desired socket and thread the rods into the backplate. Then you put that through the holes in the board (put some insulation in between the bracket and the board!).

Rods Installed in the Bracket

Rods Installed in the Bracket

Rods Through Board

Rods Through Board

Then you use black plastic inserts to guide the springs on the top and bottom. Four supplied thumbscrews complete the job.

Pot Installed

F1 Dark Installed

Mounting Hardware Installed

Mounting Hardware Installed

Using the extension is similar, but you put the extension on before the hold-down bracket. The bracket fits the extension the same as it does on the pot.

F1 Dark Installed with Extension

F1 Dark Installed with Extension

Obviously I didn’t install insulation here. That is absolutely necessary to bench sub-zero. These are just example pictures. For full installation, we’ll take a moment and go through a quick tutorial on how I insulate.

Installation With Insulation – a Small Tutorial

One of our senior members – rdrash – mentioned he uses the method I use a long time ago. When researching which method would work best for me, I settled on his example for reasons we’ll get into later. Everyone is different and there are many available insulation options, but this is the method I go with.

First, go to a hardware store (or web site) and grab a roll of 12″ x 1/8″ x 15′ Frost King adhesive foil and foam pipe insulation. One roll will last a long time.

To use this stuff you have to use a heat gun (or hair dryer) and separate the foil from the insulation. It’s actually a relatively painless process. After that you have a nice blank slate of 1/8″ thick insulation to work with. For Intel I remove the socket retention mechanism (AMD doesn’t have one of these to worry about), so be very careful to hold the CPU in place when you’re working with this stuff, lest you bend socket pins.

  • I cut three layers of insulation with all of my installs.
  • The first goes around the socket fully (outside the plastic part).
  • Then I place a very thin bit of artist’s eraser to seal the area between IHS of the CPU and the edge of the socket, which is probably unnecessary but better safe than sorry.
  • Cut a second layer to go on top of the first and over the plastic part of the socket on which you just placed eraser, right up to the IHS on the CPU.
  • Note the first two layers are usually harder than third because you have to account for stray capacitors, fan headers, etc. around the socket area.
  • Then cut a final layer to go over the other two. Don’t cut holes for the stray caps/fan headers on this one, it goes on top.

Sorry there are no interim photos, but here is what it looks like with all three layers.

Frost King on Top of the Board

Frost King on Top of the Board

Then cut one or two (depending on how much room you have between your board and benching station) layers to go underneath the socket between the board and the backplate.

Backplate Insulation

Backplate Insulation

Once you’ve done that, it’s time for a quick paper towel layer just in case something thaws enough to let off moisture. I put one folded-over paper towel layer between the backplate and the insulation and two folded-over layers over the top insulation.

Backplate Paper Town

Backplate Paper Towel

Top Side Paper Towel

Top Side Paper Towel

After that, it’s time to clean the CPU & pot base and install your chosen TIM. I go with Arctic Silver Ceramique (or, in this case, Ceramique 2) because it tolerates low temperatures and is dirt cheap in giant tubes. It isn’t the best but it gets the job done.

Ceramique Technique

Ceramique Technique

It’s okay if there is a bit too much.  You want to ensure the whole CPU is covered. Excess will get squeezed out by mounting pressure.

Important side note about Ceramique – after you’re all set up and ready to bench, before dropping the temperature you need to put a load on the CPU and pull the pot up to 60 °C to allow the TIM to be viscous enough to form the best possible bond. This also acts as a good test to ensure proper contact with the CPU.

Now, install the pot!

F1 Dark on TIM

F1 Dark on TIM

You’ll notice there is blue tape around the pot. I install the thermal probe with TIM in its hole, then use painter’s tape to hold the wire in place as it runs up the pot. This serves double duty in that it also keeps the sides of this great looking pot clean. Now, install the included neoprene insulation.

Neoprene Installed

Neoprene Installed

After that, it’s time to install the hold-down bracket and screw it down.

Install Completed

Install Completed

Once you’re done, install all your hardware on your favorite benching station (or box) and you’re about ready.

Prepped and (Almost) Ready

Prepped and (Almost) Ready

After everything is set up (power cables installed, RAM installed, etc), you need to put some paper towels or a shamwow -or even toilet paper for some people – around the whole assembly to soak up any moisture that may work loose. I usually use two folded-up layers total around the whole thing, then insert some in the gaps between the RAM/PWM heatsinks and the pot. Within reason, more doesn’t hurt. It never hurts to have a little healthy paranoia.

This method is my favorite because it actually insulates. Vasoline, conformal, eraser…all of these transfer the cold (though conformal is pretty bullet proof). This method insulates the board (and other components) from the cold CPU socket. Cold doesn’t ‘creep’ like it does with other methods.

The drawback to this method is that initial setup takes a little longer because you have to cut insulation to fit every motherboard. It’s not one-size-fits-all and is tailored to each installation. The good part is, if you want to bench multiple CPUs or multiple times with the same CPU/board combo, installation once you have everything cut is a snap and much faster than removing/re-applying eraser.

It’s also very clean, leaving no residue at all. If you want to repurpose your board for 24/7 use, removal is quick, painless and you can’t tell it was ever frozen.

Performance

To test out the pot I grabbed 30 L of LN2 and went to town for about six hours one day. First, I tested control using an i7 3960X. This particular chip is an engineering sample and seemed to dislike anything below about -20 to -25 °C. Thus it was a good exercise in control to keep the CPU right around -15 °C.

I didn’t keep it there for too long because the chip is a disappointment and doesn’t go any further on LN2 than it did on water (5.1 GHz brick wall), but the pot held very easily with as little intervention as you could expect for keeping a narrow, relatively high temperature range. Two thumbs up on tight control, with a very similar feel to its older F1EE brother. Temperature variations were minimal and easily controlled with drops of LN2 now and then when running heavily multi-threaded benchmarks.

Freezing Intel's i7-3960X

Freezing Intel's i7-3960X

AMD, however, is much more forgiving and more fun to bench on LN2. For torturing an FX-8150 I put the extension on and went balls-to-the-wall for several hours to torture every last MHz out of that chip. The pot held perfectly. Even benching wPrime 1024M – the hottest timed benchmark, running full threading for extreme lengths of time – at 2.0+ volts, there was a meager 2 °C variance, ticking up to 3 °C for only a few seconds a couple of times and settling back down to 2 °C. Aside from that, unless you let the LN2 run low, it didn’t really move much.

Compared to Giraffe Pot, the F1 Dark is a better performer. The F1 Dark has less surface area and more mass, which ends up with a more easily controlled and stable experience, holding temperatures a little better than Giraffe pot could. Holding temperatures with Giraffe Pot at 1.8 V on this chip was similar to the F1 Dark at 2.0+ V.

After several hours at -196 °C you do end up with quite a lot of frost buildup. This is where due diligence in insulation will help.

Freezing AMD's FX-8150 With Extension

Freezing AMD's FX-8150

If you have fans circulating air around at the right angles, you can even end up with some frosty art for your viewing pleasure.

Artful Ice Crystals

Artful Ice Crystals

While the F1 Dark performed admirably, the Bulldozer chip didn’t give the MHz boost I wanted. Eight GHz was the goal and it was going to reach that or die trying. After benching everything you can bench at the highest clocks the CPU was capable of, I aimed for the stars. Alas, the chip died trying at 2.3 V. RIP FX-8150.

If you’re interested, here is the full list of results from the day of benching:

3960X Benches

3D Bonus Benches

FX-8150 Benches

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

The Dragon F1 Extreme Dark is a stellar performer for extreme benchmarking, especially for anyone that uses liquid nitrogen. Tight temperature control is unparalleled and the sheer mass allows it to hold extremely cold temperatures very well under heavy loads.

If you use dry ice more extensively or exclusively, a pot that responds a little faster with some extra surface area may be better suited for your purposes. k|ngp|n’s Dragon F1 Gemini with a dry ice base (supposed to be available soon) is right up your alley, or the EoL Koolance V2 if you can find one floating around in a classified listing somewhere.

That’s not to say you can’t use dry ice with the F1 Dark; you certainly can. The main drawback will be that it takes a long time to pull down to dry ice temperatures due to the amount of surface area. Once it gets there, it will hold just well as it does with LN2. The F1 Dark would make a fine DICE pot, but its true calling is LN2.

Of course, the F1 Dark isn’t going to come cheap. In fact, it’s one of the more expensive pieces of cooling hardware at $265.00 plus shipping. In that price though is the full package – a cooling pot that will last forever (a solid chunk of copper doesn’t really need replacing. Ever.), a very solid mounting kit that works on pretty much every socket you could want from old to new and insulation to make it work for you.

At some point in its life you’ll need to get more insulation, but that’s cheap and applies to all pots. The mounting hardware is very solid and should never need replacing unless you have to buy a bracket for a new socket down the road. So consider this price an investment for the long term. Once you get an F1 Dark, you won’t need another pot unless you just want to try something else for the heck of it.

There are cheaper pots out there, mostly used and residing in classified sections out there. However, there is a reason F1EE’s are so hard to find in those same classifieds. People love them because they’re the best. I’m pleased to say the F1EE is back and better than ever, in the form of a new and improved Dragon F1 Extreme Dark. If you want the most out of your sub-zero benching experience, the F1 Dark is a worthy investment.

- Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)

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Discussion
  1. Yup, cheap LN2 is the most important thing if you are going really cold - most everything else is a one time up front expense (pot, insulation, dewar, probe, etc). CPUs and GPUs I'm always selling something I bought a month or two ago to finance the next thing. But I maybe bought 500L of LN2 in the past 2 months, and I'll probably buy about that much in the next 2 months - over time, even if its cheap the cost of the stuff you have to keep rebuying is the most expensive part of the equation. With cheap ln2 or cheap dice, you can do a lot more subzero for a lot lest cost than other people can... And that is a big advantage. It also makes you feel obligated to buy more LN2 tho - but its such a good deal!
    Dirt cheap LN2 is fantastic.

    A pot doesn't cost that much if you buy used, a cheap 775 or AMD setup is maybe 200-300 at most, and there you are!

    If you have entire chambers well below zero you won't have insulation issues, not much water in the air at that point.

    Be aware the hard drives really don't appreciate it that cold, nor does ram, or northbridges by and large, so putting everything in a cold chamber may or may not work well.

    Regardless, you owe it to yourself to play with some LN2 and cheap computer hardware :D
    I formerly worked for a company that cryogenically treats metals; it helps the austinite/ferrite conversion. We bought LN2 by the trailer load, i.e., about 5-10,000 gallons at a time. At that usage the stuff is pretty cheap. I frequently wondered about setting up a benching rig inside the chillers but couldn't convince myself that any mutant H2O crystals wouldn't fry the try.

    Hokie's article, particularly about controlling the ice crystals with less-than-high-tech, has me rethinking. That and being able to spend time Not cleaning up MBs, etc. My last couple of ponderances were ammonia cooling, laid to rest by advice here and the cost of the rig, and building in a scientific cooler (different models rated for down to -80C) and chucking in a dehumidifier for good measure. Of course that's not benching as such, more of a 24/7 mid-overclock. $200-$400 for a set-up + cheaper than dirt LN2 is starting to sound attractive.
    That might be true.

    7cm*7cm*13cm is the rough size of the block of Cu necessary to mill an F1EE.

    637cm * 8.95g/cm (density of Cu at 20*C and 1atm) = 5.70x10g Cu

    5.70x10g Cu / 1000g per 1Kg = 5.70Kg Cu

    5.70Kg Cu * 2.2lbs per 1 Kg = 13 lbs Cu (to significant figures)

    13*$20 = $260

    NOW, I'm sure he buys in bulk, and probably cuts down on the dimensions because there is no way he is losing money on these pots.
    I.M.O.G.
    What do other pots cost?

    For me, a storefront counts for something. I don't want to go to other sites, where I don't have classifieds access, to find a guy I don't personally know, to buy a pot that no one I trust has used, for a price that may only be quoted in forums posts somewhere. Time is an issue, sometimes more than convenience/money.

    The biggest part of my decision making process was where do I go to buy it, then do I know what I am going to get. I don't know that any top tier pot costs less than 200 bucks, so not something I want to gamble on unknowns with... and I had used an f1ee before and seen the Koolance struggle under load in comparison.

    Not saying kingpin is the only way to go, but these are the reasons it made since to me. And I could get a gpu pot from the same place, which I also knew was good at holding temps.


    The bold part is very true. But those guys are still in business for a reason. Here in the US, KP pots are much more common because he's from around here and we've all heard of him. In EU, guys like Otternase are much more well known and that's why their pots are selling like hot cakes over there. Both vendors are legit , but the area that each vendor is from has pretty much decided how well known they are.

    Edit: He doesn't. But he is very active on awardfabrik forums... You just might bee to learn how to sprechen ze Deutsch... (LOL)
    What do other pots cost?

    For me, a storefront counts for something. I don't want to go to other sites, where I don't have classifieds access, to find a guy I don't personally know, to buy a pot that no one I trust has used, for a price that may only be quoted in forums posts somewhere. Time is an issue, sometimes more than convenience/money.

    The biggest part of my decision making process was where do I go to buy it, then do I know what I am going to get. I don't know that any top tier pot costs less than 200 bucks, so not something I want to gamble on unknowns with... and I had used an f1ee before and seen the Koolance struggle under load in comparison.

    Not saying kingpin is the only way to go, but these are the reasons it made sense to me. And I could get a gpu pot from the same place, which I also knew was good at holding temps.
    The prices are the only thing holding me back. There is no way I could afford a brand new pot at those prices, I'll be sticking to the used market.
    Super Nade
    Have you tried throwing the CO in a blender? I've worked on a few Biophysics experiments which require samples to be cooled by dry-ice. We chuck the block in the blender and dump the sample vials in it. Quick and dirty. :)


    I've found it depends on the quality of the DICE. I had one brand that would blend up perfectly. The stuff was like fresh powder snow. But then I had a different brand that would just spin around and stay in big, hard chunks. I took the :forecast: to those. ;)

    Either way, I'm not a huge fan of Vince's latest lineups. It seems to me like his fame has caused him to constantly release new looking hardware without any real changes in the performance/internals. Not to mention his current prices are through the roof, ridiculous. I'll keep my OG F1EE+Ext, thank you.
    hokiealumnus
    Thanks for the kind words everyone!



    Have you tried throwing the CO in a blender? I've worked on a few Biophysics experiments which require samples to be cooled by dry-ice. We chuck the block in the blender and dump the sample vials in it. Quick and dirty. :)
    I generally just use a heat gun anyway. Could smell better with the acetone (when it splashes, it warms up and evaporates right quick) fumes and such, but the fire risk is lower.

    Plus my torches like to go liquid and spazz out when I point the nozzle down anyway.
    Bobnova
    I've found that it is remarkibly difficult to ignite acetone inside a pot at DIce temps. I certainly don't recommend trying, but I haven't had any luck in doing so!

    By and large, LN2 is much nicer to use.


    It's also hard to keep torch lit inside a pot filled with LN2 - I assume lighting the acetone on fire and keeping a torch lit is difficult due to lack of oxygen from evaporation of dice/ln2. Just a guess, and as you said, probably best to try to avoid lighting fires near your PC - though it'd be good for the pictures.
    Another awesome review!

    As for the DICE vs. LN2 debate... I know I'm happy I skipped DICE and went straight to LN2!

    For anybody worried about going extreme... DO IT! It's not as complicated as you'd think!
    I've found that it is remarkibly difficult to ignite acetone inside a pot at DIce temps. I certainly don't recommend trying, but I haven't had any luck in doing so!

    By and large, LN2 is much nicer to use.
    Great review! Definitely a good idea to include the basics of insulation and installation for those of us who are not that familiar with the process.

    :thup:

    I bet this inspires a few of our members to go from water or air to extreme!

    Matt
    Thanks for the kind words everyone!

    I'm really glad people that haven't used LN2 found it useful, that was part of the goal. Benching cold isn't rocket science, even if it is a bit intimidating at first glance. Ironically, LN2 is easier to bench than its much warmer DICE counterpart.

    With DICE, you have to use Acetone as a medium. That's problem #1 - before it gets cold, acetone stinks (ok, really, it evaporates poisonous fumes). It's also highly flammable. Most people wouldn't have a problem with that, but some folks like to use a torch instead of a heat gun (my choice b/c of kid concerns) to heat the pot up when necessary. Can't do that when it's got a bunch of acetone in it!

    Then there is the problem of use. It's much easier to pour LN2 than spoon tiny bits of crushed dry ice (which you have to crush unless you get pellets...most comes in a giant block). That also makes temperature control more of a pain. If you can drop temps to DICE level and leave it there, it's not so bad...but having to control around a high cold bug like my Intel chip would be much easier with LN2.

    The biggest drawback is that you have to get a dewar to use LN2. Once you have that and a thermos, you're good to go. If you're good at negotiation, a lot of times you can get local suppliers to drop way off their first asking price for LN2. Currently I pay the same amount of money for 15lbs of DICE as I do for 30L of LN2, which makes it a total no brainer. If you find yourself wanting LN2 and can't get a great price, use the receipts in this thread to (hopefully) help.
    Thank you hokie; a good primer for me. You've just 'splained more about LN2 benching to me than I've ever known. Sounds a bit more simple the way you wrote it up, but I'm sure there a lots of hints still lurking around to get familiar with. Well, at least simpler than chilled water (what a pain in the .........)