Swiftech Polaris 120 High Performance CPU Cooler Review

A big name in water cooling delivers a fresh take on air cooling. Read on and be impressed by the Polaris 120 CPU cooler from Swiftech.

Manufacturer: Swiftech
12 minutes & 43 seconds read time


Swiftech Polaris 120 High Performance CPU Cooler Review 99

It looks like a few things have changed over at Swiftech since the last time I visited their site and had the pleasure of testing, and still using to this day, the H20-320 kit they introduced back in November of last year. A couple of weeks ago I started getting correspondence of this new cooler in the works from Swiftech, and to my first surprise, it's an air cooler. Now I'm not positive you all remember the MCX series of air coolers from a few years ago. While the idea was very different, and the thinking was outside of the box in its design, the cooler had limited success, and I don't remember it being highly recommended as were the other leaders in that day of air cooling.

Then came the second surprise! When I saw the cooler design I got a big grin on my face. There are quite a few tricks implemented in this design that I have seen make successful coolers before. To be honest, as I look at this cooler I am reminded of the Thermolab BARAM for the compact nature of the fin arrangement. Then again, I am reminded of coolers like the XtremeGear HP-1216 or SilenX variation of the same design. To say this new cooler "copies" any of those is a bit of a stretch, but I can see the influence of many coolers of days gone by in this design, but that wasn't good enough for Swiftech.

This leads to the final design implementation, and if you read the news in the PC market, this cooler has been all over the news, so most of you already know what this strange implementation is; but none of you have seen the test results that the afore mentioned "tricks" combined with this leap in innovation for air coolers offers. I hate to stick with the theme this long, but surprise number four is on its way, so stick around and take a look at what the new Polaris 120 high performance heat pipe heatsink from Swiftech offers. I think you will be as pleasantly surprised as I am!

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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As with most tower coolers, the Polaris 120 consists of aluminum fins; forty-six to be exact, pressed over a set of five heat pipes. In the Polaris 120 these five heat pipes are sintered, which has to do with the type of wicking properties the inside of the heat pipe contains. In the case of the sintered pipe, it is usually good for anti gravity situations, and allows for tighter bends within the length of the pipe. At the base the pipes are squeezed together and are square in appearance as all five pipes are going to make direct-touch contact with the processor. Holding the pipes together at the base is an aluminum block that not only keeps the pipes in place, it gets used to mount the universal mounting ring to the cooler.

Between the massive heat pipes, the amount of aluminum in the fins, and the added weight of the included fan, this cooler weighs in at almost 2 pounds. While it seems a bit heavy, I assure you the mounting system is very secure and should cause no issues with warping a motherboard. Along with this weight you do get not only an attractive to look at product, you get many features built in that you may not notice at first glance. Things like fully enclosed sides to trap airflow, dimples in the fins to disturb the air as it passes over them for better heat transfer, a serrated leading edge of all of the front edges to get the turbulence correct before the air passes over the fins, along with the secret I left off the first page.

Working in conjunction with the closed sides of the Polaris 120, Swiftech implemented an "airfoil" shaped center airflow director. I know that sounds a bit abstract, so think of it this way. Take a wing off a model airplane and insert it dead center into a body of fins. With this design the hole is punched in the fins and the edges get rolled to direct the airflow right over the heat pipes. This takes the majority of the "dead zone" in cooling and directs the top and bottom of the dead zone over the pipes along with what already comes from either side of the fans hub. If the idea still isn't clear after the review is over, you can look at the drawings from Swiftech here. To work with this wind tunnel design Swiftech didn't choose a slouch, they went right to the 84CFM range which comes on most coolers today. This fan boasts good control on the range of speeds and noise levels, but with a 41 dBA rating on the box; that means it's going to make some noise while it's working.

When I caught wind of this cooler, it was just over a week ago as I write this, and they wanted to be sure that we got one with all the others that went around to be reviewed. With that being said, there are obviously retail samples out there as I got a complete kit from Swiftech. As I check the new Swiftech.com website, I see they have them listed and are available to "add to cart" for $59.95 direct from Swiftech . I don't have any word on if they are going to let others carry this line of coolers yet, but if you want one now it seems you need to buy one direct. The $60 price point is very good, and as you will soon see, as did I when I ran the testing, this is a serious cooler for a minimal price.


The Package

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The Polaris 120 comes in a shiny black package with the Switech name at the top, a window to look at the fan and a bit of the fins, with the Polaris 120 naming at the bottom.

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This side simply carries an image of the Polaris 120 with the fan installed on the cooler.

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On the back in all white text, Swiftech displays the dimensions and weight at the top, fan information in the middle, and compatibility at the bottom.

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The last side of the packaging holds five multi-lingual lists of the main features of the cooler. They cover the PWM fan, the five 8mm pipes, the heat pipe arrangement, the channeled airflow, and the direct contact of the pipes to the CPU.

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When you first open the top of the box you find a white cardboard box full of hardware. It kept falling over before I could get the image, so I removed it from the image. The cooler is under the hardware surrounded on four sides with this high density foam. The front gets protected by the fan, and the back of the cooler slides just inside the cardboard in the back. Once shipped in another box to get it to my door, there were no issues and I received this cooler in perfect condition.

The Swiftech Polaris 120 CPU Cooler

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Our first look at the Polaris 120 is where the fan will later sit. This area has been contoured in a wave form and the edges of this wave have a zig-zag edge. Inside the fins you can see the rings around the pipes that hold them in place, but there is also the large section in the middle that appears to be blocked off. All forty-six of these fins are also dimpled, and with the shape, contour, and dimples combined, it should offer very efficient heat transfer from the five 8mm diameter copper pipes coming from either side of the base.

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The sides of the Polaris 120 are completely closed off. This will capture airflow that is simply lost with open side designs. So even though there is the divider channeling the airflow from the inside to the outside of the fins, this design captures that flow and redirects it through the cooler. Also notice the cooler body fits within the parameters of the mounting hardware. This means clearance issues are very limited, even once the fan is installed.

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The rear profile is rounded on the edges, and the enclosed sides carry around to here. With the large center cavity keeping the air moving near the inner row of pipes, those rounded edges assure airflow to even the outermost pipes from the fan. So far this design of the fins stands to be a very efficient use of the included fan.

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While the top fin is more of a cosmetic covering, it displays the tips of the copper pipes, the dame dimples, and a Swiftech logo in white paint. You can see the pies are set staggered through the fins, but they also curve around the center section that is directing the air. In either edge of the right side there are tiny holes that run through all the fins. These are where the fan clips get inserted later to install the fan on the right side only. Sorry, the addition of a second fan wasn't taken into consideration in the design.

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Here I want to cover three things. First there is the large aluminum block that holds the heat pipes into the bottom of the cooler. The mounting ring gets mounted to the sides, but isn't locked into place as you would expect. The screw sticking up allows for the use of a cross bar to add tension, upwards, to this "ring", allowing to apply better pressure to the processor.

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We are looking under the cooler from the back so I can give you a shot of the center cavity. This cavity is built into all but the black, top fin creating the channels for the airflow to follow.

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While they are spaced throughout the fins to utilize the airflow, the working end of theses copper heat pipes is right here. With most heat pipe coolers the gaps here are quite large. While the gaps are noticeable, the overall square shape of the pipes as they pass through the base allow for a pretty smooth area once it gets planed level. While it isn't take to a mirror finish, what finish is there is flat against the edge of a razor and offers a great area for surface contact with five 8mm pipes in here.

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I went ahead and grabbed the wire fan clips out of the hardware box so I could show you what it looks like together. The fan with a black frame and white, seven blade fan is capable of 84 CFM at 2500 RPM, but be ready for the 41 dBA of noise coming from the cooler. As you can see the fins are quite compact and this 120mm fan hangs quite a bit above and below the fin array.

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While there aren't any rubber pads or Teflon strips to isolate the fan, it does fit snugly inside the fins. There is a little ledge that holds the fan perfectly centred across the width of the cooler, and you have the liberty to raise or lower the fan on the front. This will allow for a bit more room to sneak in some memory with taller heat spreaders.

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I lifted the fan until the bottom of it was even with the bottom fin. This shows how much the fan will rise over the top while still offering the right amount of air to the bottom of the cooler. On a side note, I also just thought the image looked cool.

Accessories and Documentation

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This is the box I explained which is packed on top of the cooler for shipping. There is a large hole in the center of the box to easily lift the hardware box out. Inside everything besides the wire fan clips are packaged in zip-close bags so nothing gets lost.

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First in the kit we have the universal back plate. It doesn't matter if you want to install this on a 939 rig, or a LGA1366, they all use bolts through this plate to mount the cooler to the motherboard, giving all sockets a very solid base to work off of. In the front are the two included wire fan clips. This slide into the fins through the tine holes nearest to the edge. They then surround the fan and actually hold the body, not the screw holes, of the outer edge of the fan.

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I will call this the Universal Kit. It consists of thumbscrews with attached springs to use for both the large cross plate with the dimple in it. These screws also mount the cooler on the top of the long threaded screws that are keyed to fit in slots in the back plate. On the left there is a syringe of thermal grease and on the right is a very handy wrench for access to the thumb screws in tight accommodations. In my hardware kit I did receive both an extra long screw and a extra thumb screw that doesn't get used.

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The bag on the left is used when adding the long threaded screws to the back plate. When you pass the screw through the plate you secure it with one of these flat nuts and add a washer on top to isolate it against the motherboard. Once that is assembled you can go onto the right bag. This has the "top hat" shaped nuts that get used with the washers to mount the back plate assembly to the motherboard. Also in this bag is the AM2/AM3 mounting to add to the base for use with those sockets. The short Phillips head screws are used to lock these plates onto the "ring" already surrounding the coolers base.

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Along with my sample there were four sets of instructions in different languages. On the front and back of two pages Swiftech covers both the AMD and the Intel installations with descriptive, easy to follow text along with great images.

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The fan included simply has a large S on it, no verification of a model to go against, so for now I will assume the specs on the box are correct. This 4-in fan is PWM controlled for fan speed, and offers a RPM sensing wire to verify the speeds.

Test System & Testing Results

Test System & Test Results

TweakTown uses a different method for testing CPU heatsinks which allows for an even playing field across all product tests. We feel that by using the same ambient temperature and strict lab-like testing procedures we are able to accurately compare one product to another. More information on our testing procedure can be found in the T.E.C.C. article here.

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At idle the Swiftech Polaris 120 cooler ties for fifth place on the efficiency of the cooler and fan at this level. Considering that all the coolers listed above the Swiftech on the chart are all using two fans to get those results, this is a very impressive start.

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Once I let the TECC heat up on the loaded settings, the efficiency of the cooler gets even better once the fan gets running with the full 12V. Here there are only three coolers that ranked better and again all of them had two fans, where as with the Swiftech it stands proud in fourth place with just one.

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In order to get this sort of performance out of this design, the fan that comes included will make a fair bit of noise. With 7.5V going through the fan there was 50 dB of noise level recorded. This isn't all that bad, and once the side panel was on the hum was easier to eliminate.

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Once I allowed the full 12V to pass through the fan the noise levels went right up as well. Here I recorded a 70 dB noise level, and even with the door panel on, noise at this level is hard to hide. I will say this. Even though it is loud, it slightly out-performs the CNPS10X Performa, but at slightly less noise level.

Final Thoughts

At this point I already have the award I want to give to Swiftech made up in my mind, but let me explain why I am doing this. This cooler may not offer the flashy LEDs, or a huge plastic shroud that takes up a ton of room with little effect. This is simply the right amount of cooler to get the job done, and get the job done well. Of course, it has its attractive points. The white fan blades would make this an attractive addition to any Fractal case, but with the simple black and white theme of the cooler, there isn't really a system the Polaris 120 won't make an attractive addition to. On top of the looks there is the huge group of features, the louder fan that is a great companion for this cooler, and an easy to use and very secure mounting system.

Taking advantage of all the trends and tricks of the trade spawned a real winner with the Polaris 120. There isn't one aspect about this cooler that made me think "why did they do that" or "this cooler could really use this". There just isn't anything they missed here. The universal mounting system makes installation very secure no matter if it's AMD or Intel, which is rare in cooling. The five huge 8mm heat pipes making direct contact to the processor and transferring heat into one of the best use of fins I have seen to date. Don't get me wrong, I have seen the dimples, serrated edges, even strategic placement of the pipes, and closed sides. As far as I know, Swiftech is the first to put it all together into one very pleasing package.

Now comes to the best part of the deal, the price. While it is only currently available directly through Swiftech, I love the $59.95 pricing they sell it for. It used to be that the line was at $50 to make or break the middle of average coolers from high end coolers. That line is getting more grey with every new cooler bring released, and for an additional $10 over my old mark, I really think the Swiftech offers you the best compromise for those looking to really push your system. You can by all means go right out and buy a $100 Noctua cooler and I assure you, you will like the cooler, but there are issues with most of the better performing coolers on our test results; size.

Swiftech not only offers you great results, an attractive cooler, and a more attractive price, they do it in the least amount of room as needed to get the job done. This leaves plenty of room for memory heat spreaders, and larger chipset cooling around where you are going to house your Polaris 120 after reading this review. For those who really don't mind the noise, I can only imagine what a Delta or Kaze fan could produce on this cooler! These reasons are why I gave Swiftech the Editor's Choice Award.

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Chad joined the TweakTown team in 2009 and has since reviewed 100s of new techy items. After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM and coolers.

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