The Bottom Line
- + Easy to install
- + Blacked-out appearance
- + Affordable
- + Mainstream RAM clearance
- - Weight
- - Vibration at certain RPMs
- - Sound level might be too high for some
Should you buy it?AvoidConsiderShortlistBuy
Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
As we sit and think back to when tower CPU coolers became all the rage, we recall many designs, but most of them were left in their natural state. Thinking back to the early Xigmatek, Arctic, Thermalright, Zalman, and many others, we got unique-looking shapes from some, while others were square and plain. Still, almost all of the products were made of copper pipes, copper or aluminum fins, and we were more than happy to install them into our systems, no matter how much they clashed with the various colors of motherboard PCBs in those days.
As time passed, more and more component makers fell into the same group of color, which we all know is black. No0 matter where you go or whose gear you are looking at, one thing is for sure, is that you can see that most of any makers' parts are black. While it simplifies things for the builders, there is also the fact that components will blend into the backdrop. What that does is that it allows things like RGB to stand out and be the star of the show. When it comes to CPU cooling, we find much of the same. However, this is a market where manufacturers will sell you a natural version, which is how the cooler we have for you now started life.
Stemming from the more vanilla AK-Series of coolers, DeepCool has gone the way of the masses and is now offering them in a new flavor. Coolers like this AK500 Zero Dark we have for this review are older designs that have gotten a black-out treatment that follows what we were talking about earlier. The best or the worst part about the AK500 Zero Dark is that DeepCool takes a no-prisoners approach to this design, which, funny enough, is more like the coolers we spoke of when we took our trip down memory lane. Whichever camp you stick to, performance or silence, the Ak500 Zero Dark from DeepCool is worth a look.
The AK500 Zero Dark from DeepCool is the AK500 with black applied to everything but the mating surface. Compatibility is good, with a ton of Intel coverage, although with AMD CPUs, they need to be AM4 or AM5 CPUs. An array of forty-five aluminum fins pressed onto five 6mm diameter heat pipes gives us the 127mm side-to-side measurement, mainly due to the thickness of the plastic cap atop the tower. Otherwise, the tower is 117mm deep and stands 158mm tall. Without the fan, the tower changes in thickness to 90mm, but all other dimensions stay the same. Weight may make some shy away, but we have used a few one-kilogram coolers in the past without issue, so the 1040-gram weight does not scare us at all.
The remainder of the chart deals mainly with the fan that cools the fin array. The 120mm fan of choice is the DeepCool DF1202512CM. Starting at 500 RPM and goings up to 1850 RPM at full power, this fan can produce up to 68.99 CFM of airflow and 2.19 mmH2O of static pressure. The noise level, while at 1850 RPM, is stated to be less than 28 dB(A). DeepCool provides an adapter that limits the supplied power for those who want a bit less noise. Specifications are less than the previous measurements, and judging by the less than 25 dB(A) noise rating, it does not seem to save much of anything, but it will hamper performance. The fan is powered by a 4-pin PWM connection, spins on a hydraulic bearing, and sips power while producing those fairly decent fan specifications.
We keep going back to the history of CPU air coolers in their tower form, and we always kept that magic $50 pricepoint that we still think is a fair line to draw in the sand, even today. Back in the day, you could get some serious cooling for $50, maybe $60 if it was a special model with added color or an LED fan, but, as we have seen lately, it is still possible to do. DeepCool stayed within that sweet spot. Looking around, we found this AK500 Zero Dark priced at $54.99. With the amount of style and the sheer size of this tower, we hope for good things, as the cost is certainly not going to get in the way.
Packaging starts with a plain cardboard box with a green line printed around it, and on the front, we see the DeepCool name and logo. Over that, a sleeve is slipped on it, where we see the cooler's name in gray text and an image of the cooler popping off the white backdrop.
The box's right end is more plain cardboard with green printing applied. While the line near the bottom carries from the front to the back, we also see an icon at the top, which we assume means this is a tower cooler design.
In case you were unaware, the back of the box tells you that this is a CPU cooler. On the white sleeve, we see the DeepCool website address in quite a few languages, flanked to the right by the specifications.
The remaining end of the packaging is the plainest yet. The green line is still doing its thing, wrapping the box, but we do see a sticker that holds the sleeve in place. To open the box, this sleeve must be removed, so in a sense, this is an anti-tamper sticker.
Inside the box, we find the AK500 Zero Dark wrapped on both sides with thick layers of foam, which are cut on the sides to allow the fan clips to have room. The front and back are not entirely covered but centered in foam for added protection. The hardware is shipped inside the cardboard box atop the tower, as is the literature.
DeepCool AK500 Zero Dark CPU Cooler
The fan comes attached to the tower, and from the view into the front of the cooler, we see that the fan covers the bulk of the fin surface area. Keeping with the Zero Dark theme, the pipes and the base are black.
From the side, we start at the bottom with two vertical and three angled pipes distributing the heat into the fin array. As to those fins, folded bits of aluminum in the middle captures airflow while the front and back edges are supported, ensuring even fin spacing. On top of the black fins, we see a thick silver cap, which adds style and hides how the cooler is mounted.
Looking at the back of the tower, we find these squared sections of fins, some lower, some higher. While it adds style and looks cool, it is also done to disturb the airflow and take advantage of what they can since the leading edges of these fins are dead flat from side to side.
Lying the AK500 Zero Dark on its side, we noticed two things. First is the groove at the front edge, near the fan. The grooves allow all the adjustment for the fan you will need, and due to its offset nature, you can lower the fan to the mounting hardware. The second thing is that we have to assume the tower is painted after assembly, as we can see the overspray between the fins with some of the aluminum left exposed.
There is a removable center component within that silver plastic ring we saw from the side view. The black portion with the grid design painted onto it, and the green plastic insert for the DeepCool logo is completely removable, exposing a hole to access the rear mounting screw at the base.
Under the fins, we find that they have been pressed onto the five copper heat pipes. We see that the pipes are offset from one another for two rows of airflow to cool them, and the only opening in the fins to find is the square one cut near the back to access the mounting screw.
A thick chunk of aluminum tops the base of the AK500 Zero Dark, and atop it, we find that the cross-bar mounting bracket is attached to it with a thumbscrew. At either end are captured screws with springs, making installation much simpler than it could be.
The base is made of copper and machined to a slightly convex shape with circular marks still visible. Covering the copper is a layer of nickel, and the black is applied after the base has been finished.
Accessories and Documentation
The first part of the hardware we are showing off is the universal mainstream Intel backplate. At each end is a stud, which is adjustable by moving the outer black plastic retaining clip, as we did for the stud at the bottom right.
The Intel gear for above the motherboard is next with the brackets at the top and bottom, which have arrows on them and the word CPU to indicate orientation. Between them are a set of mainstream standoffs, whereas the group to the right is used for HEDT sockets.
Next are the AMD bits that go above the motherboard. There are a pair of brackets with the same arrow and CPU on them. Between these are the AMD standoffs, and the set of knurled nits to the right is used for all socket types to secure the brackets.
The universal bits are as follows. DeepCool provides an extra set of fan clips, should you want to get another fan, and they also give us a screwdriver to reach the mounting screw at the base of the cooler. We also got a 4-pin PWM fan resistor which typically drops the voltage from 12VDC to around 7.5 VDC. Lastly, we are given a thin tube of DeepCool thermal paste, but there is a limited amount inside it.
As we said in the specifications section, the fan used to cool this tower is the DF1202512CM or more easily remembered as the FK120 fan. It is a nine-blade design where the frame has rubber pads at the corners, all in black, to go with that Zero Dark theme. The fan is also 4-pin PWM powered as the adapter was, and there is no lighting anywhere.
You will locate the brown envelope at the bottom of the hardware box. Inside it is the installation guide for the AK500 Zero Dark. Things start with a parts list, but only in image and quantity; they are not named. Next, the various Intel socket installation instruction follows and is done with black and white drawings and no text. AMD installation images are next, followed by fan connectivity and warranty information.
Installation and Finished Product
Using the factory backplate, we grabbed the set of AMD standoffs and installed them with the plastic ends touching the motherboard. Once screwed in until they stopped, we placed the brackets atop them, following the arrows near the mounting threads for the cooler's base. Once there, you send the knurled nuts town and get them fairly tight.
With thermal paste applied to the CPU, we set the AK500 Zero Dark onto it, but only after removing the top black cover. Grabbing under the edge of the cover allows it to easily pop off the tower, allowing us to access the rear cross-bar screw. Once done, remove the screwdriver, pop on the cover, and reattach the fan.
Looking at the AK500 Zero Dark dead in the face, we see much of what we saw when we first got it out of the box. The fan is even with the top of the cooler and leaves plenty of room for taller RAM, and not just because of the height in which the fan rides on the fin array.
While it may have appeared the fan might have caused issues with the RAM on mainstream systems, the cooler is clear of any such nonsense. A few millimeters separate the RAM sticks from the front edge of the fan.
There is no doubt that the AK500 Zero Dark is thick, but on mainstream systems, as-shipped, the AK500 ZD allows for just the right amount of space around it. We can access the 8-pin connector after the cooler is installed, and we could add a second fan to our system. Those with a HEDT system may cover the RAM behind the socket, and as long as they are not super tall sticks, you should not have to raise the fan to accommodate them.
At first, we were not that keen on the grid, but as we move back, we can appreciate the styling in the AK500 Zero Dark. It is large and imposing but clears everything we use in this system without anything to complain about. We fully see the RAM, meaning any RGB sticks will shine without impedance.
Test System Setup, Thermal Tests, and Noise Results
Chad's CPU Cooler Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII HERO [Wi-Fi] (AMD X570) - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X - Buy from Amazon
- Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 4000MHz 4X8GB
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce RTX 2060 6GB OC - Buy from Amazon
- Storage: Galax HOF Pro M.2 1TB SSD
- Case: Hydra Bench Standard
- Power Supply: ASUS ROG Thor 850W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Home 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Software: AMD Ryzen Master, AIDA64 Engineer 6.25.5400, and CPU-z 1.92.0 x64
To see our testing methodology and to find out what goes into making our charts, please refer to our 2020 CPU Cooler Testing and Methodology article for more information.
While the middle of the chart result seems like the AK500 Zero Dark is not as capable as it is, realize that the 59.7°C result is a little over 5.5°C from the top of the chart. Another way to look at things is that the AK500 ZD is comparable to both of the Noctua dual-tower designs for a little over half the cost.
Now, a little more than six degrees from the lead, we still find the AK500 Zero Dark in good company. Many good single-tower coolers land in this region, and we are not mad at all with the 66.9°C results in the overclocked test.
DeepCool leaves three degrees in the tank from the top end of the PWM curve to what the cooler can do with the fan at full speed. Three degrees will not offer much in day-to-day performance, and a hefty noise penalty is associated with it.
Noise Level Results
Under normal operating conditions, at least for us under our stock conditions, we find the fan to get to 27 dB of noise, trying to keep the processor cool. When we took that reading, our fan was spinning at 1267 RPM; for those interested, the lowest we saw the fan at idle was at 833 RPM.
Things got more interesting as we applied the overclock. Not only was sound not a factor when designing this cooler, but they also allowed it to get up to 46 dB under stress. The can was spinning at only 1422 of its 1850 RPM capability.
It may not be the loudest in our charts when we allow fans to run at their maximum, but it is close. At 67 dB with our fan at 1180 RPM, there is no doubt you will hear this cooler, and possibly in any other room of your house as well. As you can see, the penalty we alluded to earlier is quite hefty indeed.
At face value, it is hard to look at a cooler such as this AK500 Zero Dark and beat it up verbally. There is added style with the cover and the silver enclosure it snaps into, and we love the all-black appearance. Judging by the specs, we assumed performance to be where we found it, as you can do quite a bit of cooling with the fan packed into this box.
Is it chart-topping or class-leading? No, it isn't, but it does land well in our thermal charts, and at the same time, it is not so big that it complicates RAM access, GPU placement, or various other connectivity around the socket. Visually and thermally, we like much of what DeepCool delivered with their latest CPU air cooling offerings.
While this cooler is easy to install and is mechanically sound, two things that stand out to us need mentioning. The first might be a bit harsh to some, but the overspray we saw from under the tower alludes to someone trying to save money. We get that it is much easier to paint something once assembled, but we would prefer the coating was even on all parts, not just applied externally.
The second thing that caught our attention was the odd noise the fan-generated. At precisely 1250 RPM, there was an audible "shhhhiiiinnnngg" until the RPM changed. It is more a harmonic with the tower than a noise from inside the fan, and with rubber at all four corners of these fans, we find it odd it happened at all. However, we will chalk it up as a fan built on Friday and move on for now.
The real question now is what you want from a $50-ish CPU air cooler. Some solutions are more silent, and even a couple may deliver better performance with less noise, but none offer this style seen with the AK500 Zero Dark. Remember that this is a loud solution to your needs, but with the price set at just $54.99, we feel DeepCool is on point with what they can expect someone to shell out for such a cooler.
It may not be for everyone, but we know some will buy it, add a second fan, and climb right up there, much closer to those who lead our charts currently.
Even though the AK500 Zero Dark is a capable CPU cooler, the lack of attention to detail and its sheer loudness may keep some from making the leap. Although, if noise does not bother you, it is an affordable option to consider.