Today, we have an opportunity to review a budget minded CPU cooler from Zalman’s CNPS10X line of heatsinks. The CNPS10X product line has been kicking out coolers for a few years now, but their latest one (and today’s review sample) is the one they call Optima. The word optima is plural for optimum, meaning we should see optimum performance in more than one area. Knowing Zalman like we do, these areas are undoubtedly thermal performance and quiet operation – no big surprise there! So, let’s take the Zalman CNPS10X Optima for a test drive and see if it’s a worthy contender in the crowded CPU cooler market.
Specifications and Features
A quick glance at the specifications reveal a copper base, which is always a major plus. Noise levels between 17 and 28 dBA are also quite impressive. The specifications below are provided by the Zalman website.
Fan and Heatsink Specifications Dimensions 132(L) x 85(W) x 152(H)mm Weight 630g Materials Fins: Aluminum / Base: Copper Dissipation Area 6,553㎠ Heatpipes 4 Fan Bearing FSB (Fluid Shield Bearing) PWM Duty Cycle 30 ~ 100 ± 5% Fan RPM 1,000 ~ 1,700 rpm ± 10% Noise 17 ~ 28 dBA ± 10% Rated Voltage 12V Thermal Grease Specifications (ZM-STG2M) Color Gray Capacity 1g Temperature Stability -40°C ~ +150°C (-40℉ ~ +302℉) Components Common Components - CNPS10X Optima
- Shark`s Fin Blade Fan
- Side Caps
- Fan Fixing Clips
- Loading Block
- Thermal Grease(ZM-STG2M)
- Double-Sided Tape
- User`s Manual
Components for Intel - Intel Clip Components for AMD - AMD Clip A
There are a few graphically illustrated features the folks at Zalman would like you to know about. All images and descriptions courtesy of Zalman.
The box is an attractive affair that makes note of several of the high level features. On the front, Zalman makes mention of the Shark’s Fin Blade design associated with the “Ultra Quiet” 120 mm fan, the Direct Touch Heatpipe design, and that the CNPS10X Optima is compatible with AMD and Intel platforms. On the back of the box, there is a multilingual list of the high level features mentioned on the box front. The box sides are where the specifications and pictures are located to further describe the product.
Unboxing the CNPS10X Optima, we find the product well packaged and fully protected with foam and cardboard inserts. Once the top is opened, you’ll find the user’s manual and accessories sitting on top and separated from the cooler by a cardboard bed. Under the accessories, the cooler itself is secured by foam pads at the top and bottom. The fan is also isolated from the cooler with an additional foam insert to keep it from damaging the heatsink fins.
With everything removed from the box, we get our first look at the CNPS10X Optima and the included bags of mounting hardware. The included mounting hardware allows for installation on any current AMD or Intel platform (except Socket 2011) and even some not-so-current platforms. There is also an extra set of fan mounting clips should you want to use a push/pull setup.
- Socket 775
- Socket 1155/1156
- Socket 2011 (Not Supported)
- Socket AM2
- Socket AM2+
- Socket AM3
- Socket AM3+
- Socket FM1
- Socket FM2
A Closer Look
There are four 6mm copper heatpipes that extend up each side of the 47 aluminum fin stack. As the heatpipes make their way through the aluminum base plate, they are polished and flattened to ensure good contact with the CPU. The polish job applied to the heatpipes where they travel through the base plate is not what I would call a mirror like finish, but the surface is very smooth to the touch and has a fair amount of “shine” to it. There is also a top plate attached to the base of the cooler that will act as the mounting point for the Intel and AMD brackets. As you’ll see when we begin the installation process, this design works quite well. .
If you look closely at the seven blade fan, you can see four fins are present on each of the blades. This is the Shark’s Fin design that Zalman says “greatly reduces the turbulence caused by fan rotation, thus decreasing the noise and vibration while increasing the airflow.” The fan has a 4-pin PWM cable and operates at a 1000 ~ 1700 RPM range.
The first two pictures below show the required parts for AMD and Intel installations. The only difference between the two are the brackets that get installed to the base of the heatsink. On the far right of each picture, you can see the square black plastic piece, which is called the loading block. Just below the loading block in the pictures is the double-sided tape that goes between the loading block and the back of the motherboard. The loading block and double-sided tape are used for all installations, except socket 1155/1156.
The first step is to prepare the backplate, which requires installing the nuts and securing them in the appropriate position with plastic clips. If required, you install the loading block to the center of the backplate and then affix the double-sided tape to the top of it. Don’t be confused by the look of the double-sided tape in the pictures; you actually remove the center portion, leaving you with a square piece that matches the top of the loading block. Because our installation will be on a socket 1155 motherboard, I didn’t attach the loading block or the double-sided tape. The next two pictures show the backplate prepared for AMD and Intel installations.
The next thing to do is attach the mounting brackets to the base of the heatsink. The four screws need to be loosened enough to allow the brackets to be slid between the heatsink base and the top plate. Special care must be taken to make sure the brackets engage the alignment pins built into the top plate. Once you have everything aligned correctly, simply tighten the four screws back down. Here are a couple of pictures showing the AMD and Intel brackets correctly installed.
Once all the prep work is done, you install the backplate to the back of the motherboard, apply the thermal paste to the CPU, and attach the cooler using the four supplied screws. Then all that’s left is to attach the fan with the included clips. With any luck, you should end up with something that looks like the pictures below.
- ASUS Maximus V Formula Motherboard (Overclockers Approved!)
- Intel i7 3770K CPU (Overclockers Approved!)
- G.Skill F3-2400C10D-16GTX TridentX 2X8 Gb DDR3 2400 Mhz Kit
- HIS HD 7790 iCooler Turbo Video Card (Overclockers Approved!)
- OCZ Vertex 2 240 GB SSD
- Corsair HX1050 PSU
- Intel Stock Cooler
- Thermalright HR-01 Plus
- EVGA Superclock
- Zalman CNPS9900DF (Overclockers Approved!)
- Evercool HSP-12025 Venti (Overclockers Approved!)
- Zalman CNPS10X Optima
I tested the above units a few different ways. Each cooler was tested with the CPU at idle and 100% load. These test were performed with the motherboard at its stock settings, except for adjusting the memory speed and timings to meet manufacturers’ specifications. Then, the tests were run again with the CPU voltage set to 1.3 V and overclocked to 4.5 GHz. Additionally, I set LLC to 50%, which resulted in exactly 1.3 V at full load, or at least that’s what the monitoring software was reading.
The above settings were run twice. Once with the motherboard handling the fan speed through it’s PWM function and again with the fans running at 100% constantly.
All testing was done in a room at 74 °F and I chose Arctic Silver Ceramique2 as the thermal interface material. Each comparison cooler was used with the fan that came packaged with it. For the load testing, LinX stress test was run for 10 passes and the average temperature of all cores were recorded. For the idle results, I let the system sit idle for 30 minutes and again recorded the average temperature reading from all cores.
With the system set to default speeds and voltages, we can see the Zalman CNPS10X Optima performs very well with the motherboard’s PWM function handling the fan speed. Just as there should be, we see a vast improvement from the stock Intel cooler. The optima performed just as well as the other coolers when idle and managed to perform on par with the EVGA Superclock cooler when under load. The Optima fell about 5 °C behind its big brother, the CNPS9900DF; but that cooler costs about three times what the Optima does. The Evercool Venti cooler out performed the Optima by a few degrees here, but worth noting is that the Venti’s fan operates 500 RPMs faster than the Optima’s fan.
When we manually set the fan speed to 100%, the gap substantially narrows between all the coolers. Other than the stock Intel cooler, there is only a few degrees difference between all the samples. While the Optima may be a little warmer than the others in this test, you have to keep in mind that the fan is turning quite a bit slower than the other samples. The noise level is quite a bit different too with the Optima producing 10 dBA less than the Evercool Venti at 100% fan speed. So, in the stock testing, the Zalman Optima gives good performance at the quietest operation.
Moving along to the overclocked testing and with the motherboard handling the fan speed, we see the CPU temp rise to an uncomfortable 92 °C. The Optima came in last here, but remember, it also has the lowest RPM fan of the bunch. Even with the lowest fan speed, it still managed to perform almost identical to the Evercool Venti.
Manually setting the fan speed to 100% showed a lot better performance and got us just below the dreaded 90° C threshold. Apparently, the 92 °C temps above weren’t enough to convince the motherboard’s PWM function to ramp the fan speed all the way up to 100% because we noticed a 3 °C drop in temperature when we did it ourselves. Given the noise level of the Optima versus the competition, these results are actually quite impressive.
A couple of notes are in order before we head to the conclusion. The “N/A” results associated with the Intel stock cooler simply means it was unable to cope with the additional voltage applied to the CPU for the overclocked testing.
As far as the noise emitted from the Zalman Optima, it’s an extremely quiet cooler to say the least. When operating under the motherboard’s PWM function, you’re hard pressed to hear it at all. Even with the fan speed ramped up to 100%, it’s still extremely quiet, to the point of wondering if it even ramped up at all.
One other item worth mentioning is adding a couple fans for a push/pull setup. I had a couple 2000 RPM fans that I hooked up to see what effect they would have on the performance under our overclocked environment. Under full load with these fans set to 100%, the temperatures were 3 °C better, which landed us at 86 °C. Adding fans increases the cost and noise levels,which takes away from what the Zalman Optima is all about…good performance and quiet operation. Zalman knows enthusiasts like to do things like that however, so they include the second set of fan clips so you can have at it!
Zalman has a pretty darn nice budget offering in the CNPS10X Optima. The cooler allows a fair amount of overclocking and does so at an extremely low noise level. Currently, the CNPS10X Optima can be had for $34.99 at Newegg, which is a pretty solid price for a cooler in this class. There is also a $10.00 rebate being offered right now, making it an even more attractive option for the price conscious system builder.
Zalman has long made a living by offering CPU coolers that combine thermal performance with quiet operation, and the CNPS10X Optima fits that mold perfectly. While this might not be a cooler for extreme overclocking, the performance versus price value is certainly there. If you want to slap two fans in a push/pull configuration on the Optima, you can do that too because of the extra set of clips packaged with the kit. Installing the cooler is a straightforward process that can be accomplished in a matter of just a few minutes. The universal backplate is well designed and utilizes all the same hardware across all platform installations, except for the mounting brackets.
If you’re looking for a CPU cooler that’s a major step up from the stock units packaged with AMD and Intel processors and will provides a good amount of quiet overclocking potential, then the Zalman CNPS10X Optima deserves serious consideration. Heck, for $25.00 (AMIR) how can you go wrong?
-Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)