be quiet! Shadow Rock TopFlow Review

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If you haven’t heard of be quiet!, it’s a German, award-winning manufacturer that specializes in power supplies, CPU coolers, and fans. be quiet! will be making its way into the US market soon, and with that expansion comes product reviews to inform US consumers of their products and those products’ performance. First up is the Shadow Rock TopFlow, which is a top-down style CPU heatsink for all current sockets.

Specifications & Features

(Courtesy of be quiet!)

Main Specifications
Overall Dimensions 171 x 137 x 126 mm (L x W x D)
Total Weight 0.65 kg
TDP 160 W
Socket Compatibility Intel: LGA 775/1150/1155/1156/1366/2011
AMD: FM1/FM2/AM2(+)/AM3(+)/754/939/940
Backplate Mounting Yes
Fans 1x Shadow Wings PWM 135 mm
Anti-Vibration Fan Fixing Yes
Overall Noise Level 9.60/15.9/24.4 dBA (900/1250/100% RPM)
Heatsink Specifications
Dimensions 171 x 137 x 100 mm (L x W x D)
Number of Fins 53
Fin Material Aluminum
Base Material Copper
Contact Surface CNC Machined
Heatpipes 4 x 8 mm
Surface Treatment Nickel Plated
Fan Specifications
Fan Dimensions 135 x 135 x 25 mm
Speed @ 100% 1500 RPM
Air Flow @ 12 V 66.8 CFM (113.6 CMH)
Air Pressure @ 12 V 2.1 mmH2O
Bearing Type Rifle
Rated Voltage 12 V
Input Current 0.22 A
Input Power 3 W
Connector 4-pin PWM
Cable Length 200 mm
Life Span 200,000 h/25 °C
Service  
Warranty 3 Years

Superior Cooling and Silence

Shadow Rock TopFlow is a low profile CPU cooler with high cooling performance of up to 160 W TDP and very quiet operation.

Four wide 8 mm heatpipes enable the high heat transference of the space saving cooler. be quiet!’s oversized 135 mm Shadow Wing PWM-fan provides the CPU plus surrounding components with plenty of cool air with minimal noise.

Even at high fan speed, the Shadow Rock TopFlow guarantees a low noise of a mere 23.5 dB(A) and a high life span of 200,000 hours. The cooler supports all modern sockets of AMD and Intel and comes with a versatile mounting system.

Extremely quiet operation due to noise optimized be quiet! fan

The decoupled 135 mm Shadow Wings PWM fan ensures a perfect mix of cooling power and noise production. The wave shaped contour on the cooling fins minimizes noise and optimizes the air flow.

Very high cooling efficiency

Four 8 mm heatpipes transport the heat along the shortest path to the optimal point within the cooling fins. The TopFlow Cooler-Layout enables ideal cooling not only for the CPU but also for surrounding components.

Space-saving mounting

Perfect for use in desktop housing thanks to the low height of the cooler.

High-quality materials

Complete nickel-plated cooling element. Stable backplate for a shock-proof sit, even when the computer is being transported.

Packaging & Accessories

The box looks pretty good, not gaudy at all. The front has a good picture of the cooler so consumers know what they’re buying, the name “Shadow Rock TopFlow,” and the heat dissipation capacity of 160 W. The back of the box goes into more detail with the specifications table, and a diagram with top and side views of the heatsink pointing out features. The sides of the box list some high points about the product in five different languages.

Box Front

Box Front

Box Back

Box Back

Box Left Side

Box Left Side

Box Right Side

Box Right Side

Upon opening the the box, I’m greeted with a free bag of yummy “do not eat” silica gel! Not only that, but there’s also an accessories box and a well-padded heatsink stuffed in there.

Box Opened

Box Opened

Hiding Cooler

Hiding Cooler

The accessories box holds the installation instructions, brackets for different sockets, backplate, thermal paste, and all the mounting screws.

Accessories

Accessories

Meet the Shadow Rock TopFlow

Now, let’s peel that thick Styrofoam off and take a look at the Shadow Rock TopFlow. It may be hard to tell from the pictures, but this cooler is BIG. Typically, top-down coolers are meant to save space, but this one is meant for performance while also cooling other components on the motherboard. The Shadow Rock TopFlow doesn’t have as many heatpipes as other coolers of its class, but the heatpipes are 8 mm in diameter instead of the typical 6 mm.

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Angled View

Here are a couple more pictures from an isometric point-of-view.

Angled Top View

Angled Top View

Angled Top View

Angled Top View

With the fan removed, it’s easier to see the shape of the Shadow Rock TopFlow. Each of the 53 fins are serrated and sloped inward toward the center line.

Fanless Angled Top View

Fanless Angled Top View

The included fan is model BQT T13525-MR PWM, which is a 135 mm PWM Shadow Wings fan that runs 1500 RPM on 12 V while drawing 0.25 A. be quiet! lists the fan as producing 66.8 CFM of airflow and 2.1 mmH2O of pressure. Something unique about this fan is that it doesn’t have the typical frame of other PC fans. The frame’s corners are just single flanges extruding from the center of the fan’s thickness. A major downside to this is that the mounting brackets can’t be used to mount other fans on the Shadow Rock Topflow, so some ingenuity will be needed to get different fans mounted.

Fan Intake Side

Fan Intake Side

Fan Exhaust Side

Fan Exhaust Side

Another unique feature of this fan is that it has a rubber standoff on each corner to help prevent vibration. This is in addition to the rubber u-channel molding around the circumference on both sides of the fan’s frame.

Rubber Standoffs

Rubber Standoffs

Here are a couple close-up photos of the standoffs. One side is hexagonal to fit the fan frame, and the other has small pyramidal shapes with a notch that fits under the u-channel molding around the frame.

Standoff Fan End

Standoff Fan End

Standoffs Heatsink End

Standoff Heatsink End

Installation

The first step in installation is to attach the brackets to the heatsink base. In my case, I’ll be using the LGA1155/1156 brackets. Each bracket uses two screws to hold it in place as shown below.

Heatsink Base

Heatsink Base

LGA1155 Mounting Brackets Installed

LGA1155 Mounting Brackets Installed

Next, the backplate needs to be set up for attaching to the back of the motherboard. There are four screws and clear washers to put on the screws before putting the screws into the correct mounting holes on the backplate.

Backplate with Screws and Washers

Backplate with Screws and Washers

Screws Installed in LGA1155 Slots

Screws Installed in LGA1155 Slots

Then, the motherboard can be placed on top of the backplate. Once that’s done, there are four thick rubber washers that go around the screws which hold the backplate in place while installing the heatsink.

Backplate Installed

Backplate Installed

Rubber Washers Instaled

Rubber Washers Instaled

I found that turning the heatsink upside down and maneuvering the motherboard into position was the easiest way of installing this heatsink since the screws have to be tightened from the back side of the motherboard.

Mounting the Heatsink

Mounting the Heatsink

Finally, install the fan if it was removed and it’s good to go.

Completely Installed

Completely Installed

Potential Clearance Issues

Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a few possible clearance issues with the Shadow Rock TopFlow. No matter how the heatsink is installed to try to prevent a specific clearance issue, the new orientation brings up a different potential clearance issue. There’s no way to completely avoid all possible clearance issues with this heatsink. The following is a small table showing possible clearance issues in relation to how the heatsink is installed

  • Heatpipes →/←/↑/↓ =  Direction the heatpipes are facing
  • X = possible clearance issue
  • √ = no clearance issues
Orientation RAM GPU Case
Heatpipes → X X
Heatpipes ← X X
Heatpipes ↑ X X
Heatpipes ↓ X X

After looking at all the possible installation configurations, I think installing the Shadow Rock TopFlow with the heatpipes facing the back panel I/O is the best way to do it. That way there are no clearance issues with the case or GPU that occur when installing with the heatpipes facing the RAM, PCIe slots, or top of the case.

RAM

I used some extra G.Skill RAM for measuring which is ~32 mm tall on its own, and with the RAM installed, the distance from the top of the heatspreader to the heatsink is 25 mm. So, to be safe, I would say RAM no taller than 55 mm should be used to guarantee no clearance issues regardless of heatsink orientation. 55 mm should be plenty of clearance for the majority of consumers, my Dominators just have extraordinarily large heatsinks. To use RAM taller than 55 mm, it would be best to install the heatsink with the heatpipes facing the DIMM slots to guarantee no interference.

RAM Clearance to Heatpipes

RAM Clearance to Heatpipes

RAM Height Measurement

RAM Height Measurement

GPU

When the heatsink is installed with the heatpipes facing either towards the RAM or the back panel I/O, the fan mounting clip is VERY close the GPU in the top PCIe slot. The clip is only a fraction of mm from the bare PCB which includes numerous surface mounted components. Depending on the GPU, the clip could easily come in contact with the PCB or surface mounted components.

GPU and Fan Bracket

GPU and Fan Clip

Case

A possible clearance issue with the case would come up when the heatsink is installed so that the heatpipes are facing the PCIe slots or facing the RAM. When the heatsink is installed with he heatpipes facing the RAM, like in the Installation section earlier, the heatsink could interfere with rear mounted case fans that are beside the back panel I/O. When installed with the heatpipes facing the PCIe slots, the heatsink extends ~38 mm (1.5″) past the top of the motherboard. This could easily hit the top of a case or top mounted case fans.

Extending Past Motherboard

Extending Past Motherboard

Motherboard Edge

Motherboard Edge

Heatpipe Ends

Heatpipe Ends

Test Setup & Methodology

Test Setup
Processor Intel i7 3770K @ 4.0 GHz
Motherboard ASUS Maximus V Gene
RAM Corsair Dominator GT DDR3-1600 6-6-6-20
Graphics Card EVGA GTX 670 SC
Storage OCZ Vertex 2
Power Supply Seasonic SS-1000XP
Case None – Open Bench
Equipment
Fluke 52 II Dual Input Thermometer
Tenma Sound Level Meter

NOTE:  The large variance in temps in Ivy Bridge chips due to the TIM-to-IHS interface means that other i7 3770K CPUs could see much lower or much higher temps than my specific CPU.

Methodology

Cooling performance was tested as follows:

  • Disabled all BIOS settings that cause the CPU clock speed and/or Vcore to fluctuate.
  • Arctic Cooling MX2 thermal paste was used for consistency.
  • Both included fans and Gentle Typhoon AP-15 fans were used for testing.
  • Ambient temperature was measured with a Fluke 52 II at ~1 inch from the intake fan.
  • Varied Vcore from 1.050 V to 1.400 V in 0.050 V increments to increase heat.
  • 5-pass 2048 MB RAM LinX  runs at each Vcore interval were used to load the CPU.
  • CoreTemp 1.0 RC4 was used to record minimum and maximum core temperatures.
  • Stopped increasing Vcore once any single core reached 90+ °C.

Sound level in dBA was measured 10 cm from the intake fan, and then estimated for other distances using the following formula:

L2 = L1 – 20 * log10(r2/r1)

  • L2 = dBA @ desired distance
  • L1 = dBA @ reference distance
  • r1 = reference distance
  • r2 = desired distance

Why estimate sound level instead of measure at further distances? It’s because the meter I’m using is most accurate between 40-130 dBA, so I wanted to measure really close to the source to make sure I’m in that range to get the most accurate measurements.

Results

Cooling Performance

In the photo op, I mentioned the Shadow Rock TopFlow being a BIG heatsink for a top-down cooler, so here’s a comparison between it and the other two top-down coolers tested. I believe the Shadow Rock TopFlow has somewhere between 2-3 times as much surface area as the other two, and probably closer to three.

Shadow Rock TopFlow Towering Over Other Top-Down Coolers

Towering Over Other Top-Down Coolers

The performance graph below is pretty self explanatory. The Shadow Rock TopFlow beats out both the Prolimatech Samuel 17 and Thermalright AXP-100 pretty easily, but that’s expected since the Shadow Rock TopFlow is so much larger than those coolers. The Shadow Rock TopFlow couldn’t best the Prolimatech Genesis, but I didn’t expect it to beat out a 6-heatpipe, dual tower cooler.

Looking at the difference in the Shadow Rock TopFlow data when using the included fan versus the Gentle Typhoon AP-15, we can see that the stock fan is definitely a better choice by about 2 °C. This makes perfect sense when comparing the specs of the fans and seeing that the be quiet! fan has more airflow, higher static pressure, and it covers more of the cooler’s surface area being a 135 mm fan.

I was expecting to see more of an increased slope in some of the graphed data as Vcore increased, causing the data to spread out towards the end. There is some noticeable spread, especially between the two blue lines and the others. This is because the Shadow Rock TopFlow and Genesis are much larger heatsinks than the Samuel 17 and AXP-100, which allows them cool better at higher heatloads. The i7 3770K is a low power chip, so the heatsinks never seemed to get overloaded past their rated TDP. When a heatsink gets overloaded, you’ll typically see a drastic increase in the slope of the graphed data (Example from my Thermalright Shaman review).

temp_volt_sr1tf

Sound Level

As mentioned before, sound level in dBA was measured at 10 cm (~4″) from the intake fan, then estimated for further distances 1-5 feet. Also, remember that this measurement was done using an open bench, not in a typical enclosed case. So, if a case is used, then expect to see lower dBA numbers than recorded below. According the the rated 24.4 dBA at 100% in the specifications table, it looks like be quiet! tested sound level at a distance of around 5 feet and/or used an enclosed case when recording. That’s kind of a pet peeve of mine since dBA numbers are useless without a reference distance…

The sound level recorded for the Shadow Rock TopFlow with its stock fan was pretty standard amongst the other heatsinks tested being measured at 48 dBA from 10 cm away. Replacing the stock fan with a Gentle Typhoon AP-15 reduced the sound level by ~6 dBA at the cost of ~2 °C higher core  temps.

dba_sr1tf

Conclusion

The Shadow Rock TopFlow is a rather large heatsink that focuses on performance over the small size of other top-down heatsinks. It outperforms the Samuel 17 and AXP-100 at all heatloads, ranging from 2-4 °C at the low end to 8-10 °C at the high end of heatloads. This means that the Shadow Rock TopFlow gets increasingly better than the competition as the heatload rises. Even though the Shadow Rock TopFlow is much larger than its top-down competition, it’s still quite a bit shorter than typical tower-style heatsinks. This could benefit users who have a thinner than average PC case, but still want a good cooling solution for their CPU. As for sound level, the Shadow Rock TopFlow didn’t really beat out the others when using its stock fan; all the heatsinks were about even in that department. However, it is very quiet even at 100% fan speed at typical distances of 2-3 feet, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from a company called be quiet!.

The Shadow Rock TopFlow has a couple of downsides. The major one is all of the potential clearance issues. When it’s  installed in what I think to be the best orientation to avoid the most potential issues, the fan clip is almost touching the GPU’s PCB. The minor downside is the fan’s frame requires the fan clips to be made such that other typical 25 mm thick fans cannot be installed easily.

Rating this heatsink is a tough one for me, probably the hardest of anything I’ve had my hands on. The only thing making me hesitant to give the Shadow Rock TopFlow an easy Approved stamp is the fan clip being so close to the GPU. Then, when installing to avoid that issue, clearance problems with the top of the case could pop up. That would depend on the case being used, and it’s possible you would have no issues at all with the Shadow Rock TopFlow installed with the heatpipes facing the PCIe slot. To me, it boils down to the Shadow Rock TopFlow being too big for a top-down heatsink, it just spreads out across too wide of an area. If just 6-8 mm or so could be shaved off the width, then there wouldn’t be a fear of shorting the GPU. I considered the clearance issues of other heatsinks to try to help me decide on a rating, but the worst case scenario for the Shadow Rock TopFlow’s fan clip/GPU issue is worse than other clearance issues I’ve seen. There are ways to completely avoid the clearance issue, like moving any expansion cards in the top PCIe slot down to another slot or wrapping the fan clip with electrical tape. However, consumers shouldn’t have to do that to feel safe using the heatsink. Everything else about it is great. It performs well, does so quietly, looks good, and it’s priced competitively at $55. I digress… I could ramble on and on trying to justify a definitive Approved or Meh stamp. Personally, I believe the Shadow Rock TopFlow is much closer to Approved than Meh in general (Approved with consumer research), and easily Approved when using a case with a large amount of room in the top.

Overall, it’s a really good heatsink for the money, but consumers need to be aware of potential clearance issues and do their research before purchase (or be willing to do a little modding). So, after much self debate, I’ll let it wear the Approved…

Overclockers_clear_approvedClick the Approved stamp for an explanation of what it means.

– Matt T. Green (MattNo5ss)

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