Zalman CNPS9900 Max Heatsink Review

The last few times out, I looked at a couple of heatsinks from companies not too well known here in the USA for building high performance cooling solutions, like Evercool and newcomer NZXT. This time I will be looking at the Zalman CNPS9900 Max heatsink from a company that has been in the performance cooling market for years. Zalman, a Korean-based company, has been  consistently known to offer innovative and unique cooling solutions.

This heatsink is an updated and improved looped style heatpipe design with fins going around the heatpipe loops and which can trace it’s lineage all the way back to the CNPS9500 heatsink in the heyday of the socket 939 Athlons and Prescott Pentium 4. We will see if this design based on older technology can hang with today’s overclocked heat monsters that Intel and AMD have produced as their high end platforms. Zalman Tech. Ltd. was founded in 1999 and in their own words, “introduced to the computing industry the concept of ‘Noiseless Computing’ in a world filled with noisy computers.” They also brought to the table some impeccable fit and finish on their products and innovative designs for their heatsinks that were aesthetically pleasing too. In my experience, their designs weren’t at the very forefront in cooling capacity, but rather brought good cooling efficiency, good looks, relative quietness for their time and very good craftsmanship in their cooling products. From CPU coolers, they branched out to VGA coolers, then pretty much anything that you need to build a computer with besides the actual electronics such as the motherboard, processor or ram. Today they offer a very diverse selection of computer related hardware, from cooling to power supplies, to cases and fan controllers.

Features and Specifications

(Courtesy of Zalman Tech. Co., Ltd.)

Features

  • Powerful Cooling Performance [Qmax: 300W] – Optimally designed pure copper fins effectively disperse heat away from the CPU via composite heatpipes, while the high capacity 135mm fan quickly cools the heatsink for stable operation of high performance CPUs
  • Composite Heatpipe – Zalman’s composite heatpipe features a “Sintered Metal” type wick, resulting in outstanding capillary pumping performance, and a high conductive design of ‘Axial Grooves’ which increases the heat transfer rate by 50% compared to ordinary heatpipes
  • Ultra Quiet 135 mm Blue/Red LED Fan – An ultra quiet fan is incorporated for minimized noise. The Blue / Red LEDs heighten the aesthetics.
  • Black-Pearl Nickel Plating – The entire copper heatsink of the CPNS9900 MAX is ‘Black-Pearl’ Nickel Plated for long-term corrosion resistance, while the deep ‘Black-Pearl’ tone along with the high intensity Blue / Red LEDs reinforce it’s powerful aesthetics.
  • PWM Fan Speed Control – The PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) Fan automatically adjusts the fan speed (RPM) according to the CPU’s temperature, while the included Resistor Cable (RC7P) provides the option of reducing the input voltage for overall reduction of fan speed and noise.
  • Versatile Compatibility – CPNS9900 MAX accommodates a broad range of sockets.
  • High Performance Super Thermal Grease ZM-STG2 – The included all-new high performance thermal grease ZM-STG2 maximizes heat transfer to the base of the CPNS9900 MAX for intensified cooling performance.

Specifications

  • Supports Intel LGA775, LGA 1155/1156 and LGA1366 sockets and supports AMD AM2, AM2+ and AM3 sockets
  • Dimensions – 94(L) x 131(W) x 152(H) mm
  • Weight – 755 grams
  • Materials – Pure Copper/Black-Pearl Nickel Plated
  • Dissipation Area – 5,402 cm²
  • Fan Bearing – Long Life Bearing
  • Fan RPM – RC7P Connected, 900-1500 rpm ± 10%,     RC7P Not connected, 900-1700 rpm ±10%
  • Noise – RC7P Connected, 18-27 dBA ±10%,                 RC7P Not connected, 18-30 dBA ±10%

From Zalman’s specifications and features lists, they have again gone for a combination of performance and good looks with this heatsink design. A change for me from my previous experience with Zalman cooling products is that they are using a PWM type fan on this heatsink and it is also a bigger fan than I saw on the last heatsink of theirs I owned, the CNPS9500. In their features, Zalman stresses good looks at least as much as the performance features, which continues in the same vein as my previous Zalman experiences.

I measured the mass of the heatsink at 752.5 grams, which is only 2.5 grams off their advertised mass. The mass of the heatsink assembly was checked with my Ohaus 2610 triple beam balance.

Packaging

The Zalman CNPS9900 Max heatsink comes in a very nice looking box, with the heatsink being mounted inside a plastic clamshell and the box has an open cutout on the front side that continues around the corner into the right side, which shows off the 9900 MAX. The box measures in at 10 1/4 X 7 1/4 X 4 3/8 inches (260 X 186 X 112 mm), with a 1 inch extension on top of the back of the box to make a hanger for retail mounting on a rod at the store. The box is done up in a very eye appealing color scheme and  the sides show features and pictures, while the back gives a features breakdown in seven different languages. Overall, the packaging looks professionally done, like their products.

Front of box

Front of box

Back of box

Back of box

Right side of box

Right side of box

Left side of box

Left side of box

Top of box

Top of box

 

First Look and Installation

Upon opening the top of the box, you find a cardboard tray that holds the hardware included for mounting the Zalman CNPS9900 Max heatsink to the various platforms, the mounting directions sheet, plus the inline resistor and a tube of their premium thermal interface material. The body of the heatsink is protected in a hard clear plastic wrapper that you pull off before using. The mounting hardware includes a 5 1/4 inch long ball head allen wrench, which is used to tighten the mounting screws. When I first looked at this, I thought it would be extremely difficult to use, but in actuality it wasn’t hard at all to mount the heatsink.

The overall fit and finish of the heatsink is absolutely superbly done and the base is the shiniest one I’ve seen to date, even besting the Venomous X. The heatsink is in a round shape, with three 6 mm heatpipes being used and making a circle through a round layout of fins and going back into the base. Zalman has also added a stiffening ring on the outside of the fins, which makes them much stronger and more resistant to bending them while handling it. The fan sits in between two rings of heatpipes and fins and one of the finned rings holds two heatpipes and the other contains the third heatpipe. The thin ring of fins containing the one heatpipe is the intake side of the heatsink, by the way.

Besides being extremely shiny, the base is also extremely flat too. There are two theories with base finishes these days: The one that Zalman has followed is to get the heatsink base as close to perfectly flat as possible. The other theory is to make the base with a slight convex bow in it with the highest point being at the center of the base. When the heatsink is tightened down, the center of the base is point loaded at the hottest part of the CPU slug and also makes allowances for any bending moment the mounting tension imparts to the heatsink base. Both ways work well and I would think that the Zalman base would respond adequately to a well-lapped IHS on the processor, since it is so flat.

One other thing to note about this heatsink is that it comes in two varieties; one with blue LED lights in the fan (like the review sample) and the other has red LED lights in the fan. Otherwise they are exactly the same.

Heatsink and hardware removed from box

Heatsink and hardware removed from box

Mounting hardware and accessories

Mounting hardware and accessories

Front (intake) side of heatsink

Front (intake) side of heatsink

Back (exhaust) side of heatsink

Back (exhaust) side of heatsink

Side view of heatsink

Side view of heatsink

Picture from Zalman's site showing heatpipe design

Picture from Zalman's site showing heatpipe design

The instruction sheet included by Zalman is not extremely detailed, but does the job. The mounting instructions are in English on one side and an Asian language on the other. Since I can’t read any Asian languages, I am going to take a wild guess at it and say they might be in Korean, since Zalman is a Korean company.

Instruction Sheet

Instruction sheet (continued)

Instruction sheet (continued)

Final part of instruction sheet

Final part of instruction sheet

The backplate included by Zalman can be used for both Intel and AMD platforms and they came up with a novel and innovative way to adjust the mounting nuts on it. They have four plastic pieces that will slide down the arms of the backplate and you align them with the appropriate holes for your platform. Once aligned, you slide the threaded riser nuts through the backplate and plastic clips until the nut is flush between the edges of the arms on the backplate. The plastic clips fit tight enough to hold the assembly securely together.

Zalman also includes some double sided sticky tape for sticking the backplate to the mobo, because the mounting screws go directly into the backplate itself, instead of screwing into a frame that goes from the backplate to the front side of the mobo such as Thermalright and Prolimatech use. This mounting method of Zalman works well, but has the drawback of semi-permanently sticking the backplate to the mobo. So if you upgrade later or have a mobo go out, you will have to rip the tape loose and either find some more double sided tape or do as I did and use duct tape to hold the backplate in place.

Multi-platform backplate

Multi-platform backplate

Heatsink base, with Intel mounting arms attached

Heatsink base, with Intel mounting arms attached

For mounting to the different platforms there are two sets of arms you have to connect to the base of the heatsink by clamping them between the top and bottom plates on the base. There are two screws on each side that you loosen up and then slide the mounting arms between the bottom and top plates, then tighten down again. There are two holes in each arm that get captured by some raised bumps built into the top plate and insure the alignment of the mounting arms. The Intel mounting arms have elongated mounting holes that work on LGA775, LGA1155/1156 and LGA1366 platforms.

Base is flat in both directions

Base is flat in both directions

Good clearance from ram on intake side

Good clearance from ram on intake side

Good clearance on back (exhaust) side too

Good clearance on back (exhaust) side too

Test Setup

Since the Zalman CNPS9900 Max uses a proprietary fan designed to fit inside the heatsink itself, there is no way to test it with any other fans. So what you see is what you get, performance-wise. The specifications that Zalman gives on the fan are listed above in the specifications.

The testbed system is configured as follows:

  • Case – In Win Dragon Rider. The 220 mm side door fan has been shifted downward to give clearance for tall heatsinks. No other alterations have been made to this case.
  • Motherboard – Asus P6T
  • Processor – Intel Core i7 930, overclocked to 4000 MHz @ 1.304 v under Prime95 load.
  • RAM – Corsair XMS3 DDR3 1600
  • Video Card – eVGA 7900GTX
  • Power Supply – HEC Cougar series S700
  • Hard Drive – Western Digital Caviar 250 GB SATA hard drive
  • Optical Drive – Lite On DVD-RW drive
  • OS – Windows Vista Ultimate 64 Service Pack 2
  • Arctic Cooling MX2 thermal paste was used for testing as I have found it to give consistent results with no appreciable break in and it applies and cleans up easily.
  • All testing was done with the side door fastened to the case.

Test Methodology and Results

The testing methodology used is the same as I used with my previous reviews. All energy saving features of the motherboard and processor were turned off to keep it from down clocking the processor speed and vcore. All fan control functions were turned off in bios to keep the fans at maximum speed. For processor temperature monitoring purposes, I am using Real Temp 3.46, with logging enabled at 2 second intervals. For room temperature monitoring, I am using a Fluke Model 52-2 and using a “K” type thermocouple that is inserted into the case front where the front intake fan is mounted. The Fluke records the maximum, minimum and average temps during the run at 1 second intervals.

Temperatures in my computer room were maintained as close as possible to around an 18 °C average during the run, as measured at the lower front intake fan by the Fluke. At the end of the test run, I logged the maximum, minimum and average temperature. The maximum and minimum temps are given as recorded by Real Temp, but the average temperatures have been adjusted to a constant 18 °C as derived from the Fluke average temps.

For loading the CPU, I used Prime95 version 25.8 using in-place large FFT’s and ran it for 30 minutes to stabilize temps. After 30 minutes, I would exit Prime95 and let the CPU idle for at least 10 minutes. The highest recorded temperature from the hottest core for each run was then recorded off of the Real Temp log, the lowest temperature on any core was recorded and the average temperature on the hottest core was calculated during the load portion of each run.

The following chart gives the results I obtained with the CNPS9900 Max:

As you can see above, the Zalman CNPS9900 Max heatsink was able to a decent job of cooling my i7 930 at 4 GHz. At no time did I think I would have to worry about temps climbing too high. I also found that remounts were very consistent and average adjusted temperature varied less than 0.25° C between three mounts of the heatsink. The chart below will show the performance of the CNPS9900 Max against the 3 other heatsinks I have tested since changing to my present test system configuration:

As you can see from the above chart, the Zalman did pretty well in cooling my test system down. The Transformer 4 did show an average load temperature about 0.5° C cooler than the 9900 Max, but the Zalman had a bit lower temperature for its idle temp. Both the CNPS9900 Max and the Transformer 4 showed quite a bit better performance than the other two heatsinks in the comparison.

Conclusion

Looking around at various stores, it looks like about the cheapest you will find Zalman CNPS9900 Max heatsink is around $60 (after rebate) for either red or blue LED models, which I found at Newegg here for the blue LED model and right here for the red LED model. That is a good bit of coin for this heatsink, especially considering you can get the same performance from the Transformer 4 for a little over half the price. But with this heatsink, you also get impeccable workmanship and a nice shiny heatsink that performs well and will also add a bit of bling to your system, if that is your thing. It is also a little shorter in height than most tower heatsinks, which might help people who have fan clearance problems. And this heatsink is ready to use out of the box and they even throw in a decent sized tube of their newest thermal grease. I haven’t used their thermal interface material but I have heard good things about their older grease, the ZM-STG1 and I doubt they would release a new grease that performed worse. All in all, the pricing on this heatsink is a bit high, but not outrageous and like the other Zalman heatsinks I have owned in the past, it’s almost a work of art. And so, I find that the Zalman CNPS9900 Max earns the Overclockers Approved rating.

In closing, I would again like to thank Zalman sending this sample for us to review, and I look forward to more samples in the future from you guys too. To my readers, I will be back soon with another review.

- Jim Gautreaux (muddocktor)

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Discussion
  1. In the near future I am going to be building a new system based around an Asus Sabertooth 990FX RS2.0 and I plan on using an AMD FX8350 Processor with it and my question is will the Zalman CNPS9900 MAX CPU Cooler be able to work with this combination? My case has plenty of room, Zalman Z11, and I won't be doing anything too crazy but I want something better than stock to keep the CPU cool while not looking too terrible or interfering with my Graphics or Ram. :confused::confused:
    You are very welcome Windjammer, and welcome to the forums. :welcome:

    As for temps on your 960, these procs run on the hot side of what we used to see and I don't worry personally until I see temps running past 80 C for long lengths of time. And on my test system, I have seen temps get to 100+ C while testing heatsinks without damage. The processor has some internal safeguards built in that will shut the system down if things get too hot.
    Thanks for an excellent review! I actually own one, having bought it from NewEgg last month. I concur with your comments about bling appeal and fit and finish... it is almost a work of art. I have it mounted in a Zalman GS1000 black case, along with 4 Zalman chassis fans. I am a newbie to overclocking and your review has reduced my fears about temperatures. I have an Asus P6X58D-E mobo, 12 G OCZ Gold DDR3 and a Core i-7 960. I used the Asus o/c utility XMP and currently am running at 4.1 Ghz with my temps avg mid 40* range under light load conditions... when pushed my temps are running upwards of 65* and I was getting very nervous, however your review shows higher temps and you don't seem worried about cooking your CPU so I guess I'm safe! My next project will be cutting a hole in my side case and putting in a window so everyone can see my jewels at work! (NOT!) Thanks for a great board. I am looking forward to getting some insights into overclocking from the brains in your community!:fight::
    muddocktor
    Well, If I did that, the center fan would impede airflow if the tied on fan would be much higher in airflow. Plus, with the 9900 Max, the looks are at least as important as the performance, if not more. This heatsink is more aimed at the person who wants very good looks more than outright performance. Zalman has some other heatsinks that seem to be aimed more at the ultra high performance realm than the 9900. And even with the stock fan, the performance isn't bad. As long as the buyer realizes that they are paying a bunch of money for the looks, there is no problem.

    And thank you for the review complement!:attn:


    @SeanDude05, yeah, I agree with you 100% about that. The high end air cooling market is way too competitive for Zalman's pricing, in my personal opinion. But I will say that their fit and finish are exemplary.
    Well, If I did that, the center fan would impede airflow if the tied on fan would be much higher in airflow. Plus, with the 9900 Max, the looks are at least as important as the performance, if not more. This heatsink is more aimed at the person who wants very good looks more than outright performance. Zalman has some other heatsinks that seem to be aimed more at the ultra high performance realm than the 9900. And even with the stock fan, the performance isn't bad. As long as the buyer realizes that they are paying a bunch of money for the looks, there is no problem.

    And thank you for the review complement!:attn:

    @ SeanDude05, I happen to agree 100% about Zalman's pricing. The high end air cooling market is simply too competitive for Zalman's pricing. I will say though that Zalman has some of the best fit and finish on the market though.
    Thanks for the review. Zalman needs to be a little more competitive with their pricing, and they would have a WINNER. It performs well, drop the $$ and more people would notice.
    Love the review!

    About the fan, why not use zipties or something else to just attach additional fans to each end, instead of trying to remove the center one?