Zalman CNPS9900DF CPU Cooler Review

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Since 1999, Zalman has been a well known name in the thermal solution game, especially where quiet operation is the goal. Their latest entry to that fold is the CNPS9900DF CPU Cooler, which I’ll be taking a look at today. The CNPS9900DF is armed with composite designed heatpipes, cross bending fin technology, dual fans, and the Cooler Noise Prevention System (CNPS). So, let’s take this cooler for a test drive to see how all of these designs come together and more importantly, how well it cools the CPU!

Specifications and Features

Specifications

The following specifications are courtesy of Zalman’s website.

FHS & Fan
Dimensions 140(L) x 100(W) x 154(H)mm
Weight 850g
Materials Copper(base & Fin)
Dissipation Area 6,800㎠
Heat pipe Qty 3EA
Fan Speed Front 120mm 1,000rpm ±10% (3pin)
Center 140mm 900 ~ 1,400rpm ±10%(4pin)
Noise Level 19 ~ 27dBA ±10%
Bearing Type Long Life Bearing
Control Method PWM Control, Auto Restart
Input Voltage 12V
Thermal Grease (ZM-STG2)
Color Gray
Capacity 3.5g
Temperature Stability -40°C ~ +150°C (-40℉ ~ +302℉)

 

CPU Compatibility
 Brand Socket CPU GHz Compatibility
Intel 2011 Core i7 Extreme Supports all speeds
Core i7
1155/1156 Core i7 Extreme Supports all speeds
Core i7
Core i5
Core i3
1366 Core i7 Extreme Supports all speeds
Core i7
775 Core 2 Quad Supports all speeds
Core 2 Duo
Core 2 Extreme
Pentium Dual Core
Pentium D
Pentium 4
Celeron D
AMD FM1 LIano Supports all speeds
AM3+ Zambezi Supports all speeds
AM3 Phenom II Supports all speeds
Athlon II
AM2+ Phenom II Supports all speeds
Phenom
Athlon FX
Athlon X2
Athlon
Sempron
AM2 Athlon FX Supports all speeds
Athlon X2
Athlon
Dual-Core Opteron
Opteron
Sempron

Features

We’ll dive into the features in more detail later in the review, but for now here are the highlights in pictures. All images courtesy of Zalman.

The Cross Bending Fin Technology is said to produce better cooling with even less noise by altering the airflow.

Made with a “sintered metal” type wick design that features axial grooves, the heatpipes on the CNPS9900DF promise a 50% better heat transfer rate when compared to normal heatpipes.

Dual fans are always nice. The smaller fan pushes air through the larger fins, the bigger fan pushes air through the smaller fins, and out the back of the case we go!

Both fans are blue LED equipped.

A well-sanded, highly polished heatsink base is critical for good cooler to CPU contact and heat transfer.

At only 154 mm tall, the CNPS9900DF should fit in any full tower case and the vast majority of mid tower cases.

The CNPS9900DF is compatible with all the latest AMD and Intel platforms right out of the box.

As far as bundled TIM goes, Zalman’s ZM-STG2 is one of the best. You can purchase the Zalman ZM-STG2 TIM as a standalone product, supposedly it’s pretty good stuff! In fact, Benchmark Reviews gave it an “Enthusiast Level Grade A” back in 2009 when they did their “80-way Thermal Interface Material Performance Test“.

Packaging and Accessories

The box is comprised mostly of a black and blue theme and does a very nice job of describing the product within. A large window in the front and a smaller window at the back give the potential buyer a sneak preview of the CNPS9900DF. Much of the information printed on the box is the same as the features listed above.

Box Front

Box Front

Box Rear

Box Rear

Box Left Side

Box Left Side

Box Right Side

Box Right Side

Box Top

Box Top

After lifting the box top, there is a cardboard insert just underneath, which houses the included accessories. The accessory bundle includes two bags of hardware, back plate, and installation manual.

Accessories Sitting on Top

Accessories Sitting on Top

Accessory Packaging

Accessory Packaging

Bag number one contains three different size bolts (four each) to accommodate all the current CPU platforms, a set of four nuts, and the four side caps. I’ll show you how all this works when we get to the installation portion of the review. Also included in this bag is a nifty Zalman sticker for those of you that like that sort of thing.

First Bag of  installation Hardware

First Bag of installation Hardware

Bag One Contents

Bag One Contents

Accessory bag number two contains the Intel and AMD brackets, loading block, double sided tape, fan splitter cable, Allen wrench, and the ZM-STG2 TIM.

Hardware Bag Number Two

Hardware Bag Number Two

Bag Two Contents

Bag Two Contents

Rounding out the accessories is the user/installation manual and the universal back plate. The all-in-one back plate is well-designed and can be used across all Intel and AMD platforms. The installation instructions are rather detailed and easy enough to understand.

All-In-One Backing Plate

All-In-One Backing Plate

User/Installation Manual

User/Installation Manual

With the accessories out of the way, we come to the CNPS9900DF itself. It’s housed in a hard plastic clam shell with an additional hard plastic “ring” around the fins. The clam shell and ring have snap together points that hold it all together, but they are easy to separate. One thing that was a little concerning is the lack of a protective film over the base of the unit. As highly polished as this surface is, you would think Zalman would want to do a little better job of protecting it. The end user would also appreciate a protective film, so as not to accidentally scratch it during the handling phase of installation.

Protective Clam Shell Front

Protective Clam Shell Front

Protective Clam Shell Rear

Protective Clam Shell Rear

Fin Protection Ring

Fin Protection Ring

A Closer Look

The pictures below show the CNPS9900DF from various angles; I guess we’ll call this the photo op!

Straight On Shot

Straight On Shot

Angle Shot

Angle Shot

Side Shot

Side Shot

Another Straigh On Shot From The Other Side

Another Straight On Shot From The Other Side

The total weight of the CNPS9900DF is 850 grams (1.873 Lbs.), which is a lot less than I thought at first glance. The base of the CNPS9900DF is beautiful to look at; it really is well sanded and polished to a mirror finish. The base is constructed of nickel-plated copper; and according to Zalman, will cool a CPU up to a power of 300 Watts. I put a straight edge over the base to check for a flat surface and found it to be completely flat, at least as far as the naked eye can tell.

Polished Base

Polished Base

Mirror like finish? Yea, I think so!

Mirror Like Finish? Yea, I Think So!

The base is flat!

The Base is Flat!

There are three heatpipes that circle through the aluminum fins. Two of the heatpipes circle through the thinner fin stack; and a single heatpipe circles through the thicker fin stack. All of the heatpipes travel through the base of the cooler and are terminated at the opposite end of entry. The two fans cooling the aluminum fins are different sizes. The thicker fin stack is cooled with a 120 mm fan; and the center fan is a 140 mm PWM design fan.

The thicker fin stack is designed in such a manner that the 120 mm fan sits inside a recessed area. This design should provide a good deal of air flow through the fin stack from all directions. There are two aspects of the Cross Bending Fin Technology. The first being a notch along the outer rim of each fin. Secondly, each fin is built in an “L” shape, which creates the pocket for the 120 mm fan to sit in.

The thinner fin stack has a Cross Bending Fin Technology that is much more noticeable. The outer edge of each fin is bent slightly, while the inner portion of each fin remains straight. There is no recessed area for a fan to sit in, but the 140 mm center fan is large enough to cover the entire outside diameter with good air flow. My speculation on the Cross Bending Fin Technology is that it provides increased air flow contact with the fins, which should enhance the performance without the need for higher RPM fans and the noise associated with them.

Each fan has its own power cable, but they can be joined by using the included adapter cable. This will allow the cooler to use only one fan header on the motherboard, and provide the ability to control fan speed through your motherboard’s BIOS.

Two of the Heatpipes

Two of the Heatpipes

Third Heatpipe

Third Heatpipe

Heatpipes beginning Their Journey Through the Fin Stack

Heatpipes begin Their Journey Around the Fin Stack

Side View of Thicker Fin Stack

Side View of Thicker Fin Stack

Outer Edge Bending of Thinner Fin Stack

Outer Edge Bending of Thinner Fin Stack

Single Heatpipe Up Close

Single Heatpipe Up Close

Dual Heatpipes Up Close

Dual Heatpipes Up Close

Two Fan Power Cables

Two Fan Power Cables

Fan Power Cables Joined

Fan Power Cables Joined

Installation

I’ll be installing the CNPS9900DF on an ASUS Maximus V Formula Socket 1155 Motherboard. The first thing to do is gather the parts needed for installation.

Socket 1155/1156 Installation Parts

Socket 1155/1156 Installation Parts

The first order of business is to install the Intel brackets. This is accomplished by partially backing out the four screws enough to allow the brackets to be slid between the base and the heatpipe cover. You should end up with something that looks like the below pictures.

Intel Brackets Installed

Intel Brackets Installed

Intel Brackets Installed

Intel Brackets Installed

Once the brackets are installed, the backing plate needs to be prepared. The legs of the backing plate are slot drilled for three different platforms; we’ll be using the center slot for the socket 1155 installation. Simply slide the nuts through the back plate hole and then secure them with the four side caps. The easiest way to do this is to work with one leg of the backing plate at a time.

Once the back plate is assembled, it can be installed to the back of the motherboard. The instructions say to use the double sided tape to affix the backing plate to the back of the motherboard, but they go on to say that it is not a necessary component. I chose not to use the double sided tape; I’m sure most people will opt out too.

Backing Plate With Bolts and Slide locks

Backing Plate With Nuts and Side Caps

Bolts Ready to be "Side Capped"

Nuts Ready to be “Side Capped”

Backing Plate Positioned On Rear of Motherboard

Backing Plate Positioned On Rear of Motherboard

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Nuts Installed Through Motherboard

Apply your favorite TIM (or the more than capable included ZM-STG2) to the CPU and position the CNPS9900DF so the holes in the Intel brackets line up with the screws protruding through the motherboard. Next, you’ll need the appropriate bolts for the platform the cooler is being installed on. As far as the east/west positioning goes, the thinner fin stack goes towards the rear of the case.

At this point I feel the need to point out a couple of dislikes in regards to the installation. First of all, the bolts used have Allen heads, which I really don’t like. However, because of the huge fin structure, you do not have a straight shot at the top of the bolts from above. So, I guess the Allen heads were utilized to allow you to get at the bolt heads from an angle. But, even accessing the bolt heads from an angle can present problems if the heatsinks over the PWM area are tall. Tall PWM heatsinks will only allow for a very short turning radius of the Allen wrench, so be prepared to spend some quality time with the included Allen wrench. The limited access to the bolt heads carries over to actually trying to get the bolts started into the nuts. My hands would probably be considered average in size, but I had difficulty getting the bolts started. In the end, I prevailed! So, again… be prepared to spend some quality time with the four bolts!

After a cold beer (maybe that’s why I struggled with the bolts?) and a couple mumblings of “seriously?”, you should end up with a securely attached cooler.

Installation Complete

Installation Complete

Yea, it's a Tight Fit!

Yea, it’s a Tight Fit!

Will Your Fingers Fit in There?

Will Your Fingers Fit in There?

Exhaust Side

Exhaust Side

Intake Side

Intake Side

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Final Install Picture

Just like most things in this world, there are sacrifices to be made. In the case of the Zalman CNPS9900DF cooler, the incredibly large fin stack comes at the expense of an effortless installation process. When we dive into the testing phase, we’ll find out if the trade off is worth it.

Before we get into the testing phase, I thought a few pictures of the pretty blue LEDs would be in order. So, here you go!

I’m not sure why, but I really like the looks of this cooler when it’s lit up like that. Maybe it’s that beer talking again, who knows….

Testing

System Components

I’m sure most of our readers know the vast majority of the reviewing staff here at Overclockers has moved on to a more modern Z77 platform for their test beds. You can include me in this group. My previous P67 platform used for CPU cooler reviews has been retired, and along with it, my comparison results. Obviously, the thermal design differences between the i7 2600K (used on the P67 platform) and the i7 3770K prohibit any comparisons from being used. So, with that being said, the comparison coolers will be limited as I begin the process of gathering data for the Z77 platform. All is not lost however; I was able to find a few coolers in the stockpile that we can use for comparison.

Comparison Coolers

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.

First, we’ll go through the stock results at idle and load with the motherboard handling the fan speeds, and then with fans running at a constant 100%. Under these environments, the Zalman CNPS9900DF beat all the other coolers in the comparison. During the stock testing, the Zalman was by far the quietest cooler of the group and by a huge amount when the fans were set to 100% speed. Zalman reports that 27 dBA is the maximum noise level this unit can produce and that’s very believable. The Zalman is off to a good start, both performance and noise wise!

Stock Settings Using Motherboards PWM Fan Control

Stock Settings Using Motherboard PWM Fan Control

Stock Speed, Fans at Constant 100%

Stock Speed, Fans at Constant 100%

With the the overclocked settings in place, the same two testing scenarios were run. The graphs below will show a “N/A” for the Intel cooler’s load test results; it was incapable of keeping the temperatures at an acceptable level while the CPU was overclocked. No big surprise there. With the motherboard handling the fan speeds, the Zalman came out on top during the idle testing and was within 1 °C while under load when compared to the EVGA and Thermalright coolers. With the fan speeds set to run at a constant 100%, the Zalman again came out on top during the idle testing. While under load, the Zalman fell a few degrees behind the EVGA and Thermalright coolers.

Overclocked PWM Fan Control

Overclocked Using Motherboard PWM Fan Control

Overclocked

Overclocked, Fans at Constant 100%

These results are quite impressive when you consider the noise to performance ratio. Even with the Zalman’s fans ramped up to 100%, the noise level is only slightly more than when it is running at its lowest speed. At this point, I’d have to say the cumbersome installation is far outweighed by the cooling performance the huge fin stack provides.

Conclusion

The Zalman CNPS9900DF really impressed me with the cooling performance it delivers at such a low noise level. The large fin stack and the dual fans do their job very effectively, as the testing results above clearly show. Even though the installation process might be a little more difficult than I would like, the final results are well worth the effort. The ability to mount this cooler on all current Intel and AMD platforms, the intuitive all-in-one backing plate design, and of course, those blue LEDs all add to the appeal of the Zalman CNPS9900DF. With an overall height of just 154 mm, you don’t need a huge case to use the cooler either. It should easily fit in most mid-tower cases.

So, how much does this cooler cost? At the time of this review, they have yet to hit the store shelves. However, Zalman has confirmed to us that the MSRP will be $89.99. If this holds true, it will be just a few dollars more than the CNPS9900MaxB and roughly the same price as the triple fan CNPS12X. This price range also includes some stiff competition from the Noctua’s of the world and several others. Also, worth noting is that the comparison EVGA and Thermalright coolers are priced in the low to mid $50 range. However, I think the advantage of the Zalman over the competitors will be it’s extremely quiet operation, especially with the fans cranked up to their max speed. Not to mention the Zalman may be considered by many to be more aesthetically pleasing than the others.

If your end game is to have a CPU cooler that allows a good deal of overclocking, is extremely quiet, and provides excellent temperatures, then I think the Zalman CNPS9900DF is a product you should definitely consider. All said and done, a very nice effort on Zalman’s part here.

– Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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Discussion
  1. Reading this was a real throwback (I used a previous model in 2004 on an Athlon64 2800+ Newcastle and 3800+ dual core)!
    Nice review, nice cooler, but wow is it pricey!
    I've always really liked how these look. The LED fans makes it even more awesome.
    What really impressed me though, beyond anything else, is that Zalman is honest about how many heatpipes there are!
    There are three, and they say three!
    Most manufacturers run three and call it six, or run four and call it eight. It drives me nuts.
    Nice review, too. Thanks for the extra pics in a dark environment.
    Enough have said its price against competitors in the same range with better efficiency. My only gripe is that its circular design uses proprietary fans also.
    Nice looking when lit up though.
    Thanks for the review.
    they are max and from what i can see on the similar 2 zalamans i have they cant be replaced really.
    they look really good compared to others in same class but cost a lot more compared to others in same class / performance rating with 2 fans equipped.
    Id like to see how a 212 evo with 2 fans "using the 2nd included bracket " stacks up vs this unit just to see because i bought 2x 212 cm evos for 20$ each recently and it out performed my A50 and even more with 2 fan's makes you wonder right.