Zalman CNPS11X Extreme CPU Cooler Review

Zalman takes a different approach in cooler design and delivers a smaller cooler with really great performance!

Manufacturer: Zalman
10 minutes & 20 seconds read time


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Last I remember from Zalman, I was testing the CNPS10X coolers, of which there were four versions in total - two of which I got to look at personally. There was the Performa and the Extreme, both of which were typical tower based designs with a top cover and other tricks specific to the series. The cooler we are about to see takes on some of the attributes of these coolers, but harks back to the CNPS7 series of coolers for its outer appearance. You might even say both got their concept for the CNPS5, but we aren't splitting hairs here and it looks much more like the 7 series.

The concept with the CNPS7X was that it used the flat square front of a tower design, but the back was trimmed into a wedge shape. Now, back with the CNPS7X, the fins went from the fan edge to the tip of the wedge in the back - for this generation there has been a major change here. Another change is the amount of heat pipes that ran through that cooler. It used three 6mm heat pipes and a really funky mounting system. Both of those have been changed as well. While the cooler we are about to look at has a cover, or hat let's say, it keeps a very similar outer appearance to the CNPS7X, but let's hope along with the redesign we have also improved upon the performance of the CNPS10X series. I mean to take on the new higher number, it only makes sense that it should perform better, right?

For those who don't keep up with all the latest in coolers, I am talking about the Zalman CNPS11X Extreme Ultimate Cooling Performance CPU Cooler. Today we are going to not only look at this cooler from the outside, but I plan to tear this cooler apart so we can see what is going on inside as well. With the new design and the lack of actual fin area in the body of the cooler, I have my reservations about this coolers potential. If there is one thing I have learned over the years working here, it is to never judge anything I see by the way it looks alone. There are quite a few wolves in sheep's clothing on the market, and I have to say, the CNPS11X may just be another one to look out for. Get comfortable and stay with me here as I show you that Zalman proves not all small coolers are created as equals. The CNPS11X is about to prove my initial assessment to be way off!

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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Zalman delivered our testing lab a very unusual idea in tower cooling. I mentioned there are a few changes from the seven series, so let's get to those. The CNPS11X comes with five composite, copper heat pipes with a 6mm diameter that run through the base, sandwiched between the copper base and aluminum top half of the mounting. The easiest way to explain the way the pipes bend and run through the fins is to think of a "V", now put the fan across the opening of that "V". That is how the two separate sections of fins are laid out on this edition of the CNPS lineup. Since there is such a lack of material in the middle of the cooler body, Zalman has used, at my last count, eighty-two fins for each side of the tower and the pipes, base, and all these fins are plated in a black nickel finish. This is what gives the cooler the 7600 square centimeters of surface area. If you don't have a lot of area for the fins, the only way I know to make the cooler perform better is to add as much metal as you can to that limited space.

To cool this tight array of fins, Zalman has employed the services of the ZP1225BLM 120mm fan. This fan consists of seven blades with a hub that is backlit with bright blue LEDs. With it you can achieve fan speeds from 1000 to 1950 RPM with a maximum of 33 dBA of noise, and what I am guessing is around 70 CFM of airflow. Since this is an "Ultimate" cooler, I would expect noise to get a bit loud at times. Zalman has added the RC23P inline fan connection to reduce fan speeds and noise levels. With this resistor in place the fan tops out at 1450 RPM and produces only 24dBA of noise. Lastly, this fan uses a long life bearing to offer 40,000 hours of run time and gets powered with a 4-pin PWM connection.

It seems to me I have seen this cooler in various articles and I would have expected locations of where I can buy this cooler to be more plentiful. From what I can gather with a bit of Google shopping, there is, as I type this, only three locations other than eBay that you may find the CNPS11X., Chief Value (powered by Amazon), and are where I could find it. Out of the three, the listing of $79.99 is the best of the bunch. So now I have two reasons why this cooler should perform really well outside of the design. I mean, if a company is going to charge $80 for a cooler, I would assume it needs to do a good job to justify this price. So let's see if I can do just that!


The Packaging

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The front of the packaging is the top of theCNPS11X cooler and chrome plated logo. At the bottom you get the full name of the cooler and image of the CNPS11X in action with the LED fan lit up.

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Turning the box to the right, we run into the compatibility chart showing AMD and Intel processors it works with. Under that there is a specifications list for the body of the cooler and the accompanying fan.

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On the back there is a lot to take in. Features are shown as separate images leading off from a shot of the CNPS11X, covering things like its 350W rating, the composite heat pipes and the shape of the cooler.

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This panel is strictly text of the features and inclusive materials in the box. Zalman does make sure to try to care for everyone and offers six translations other than English.

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As I went to open the cooler packaging, I noticed that Zalman used this space to show off a little bit and display their awards from over the years.

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Inside, we see the CNPS11X and the attached fan are packed under a shelf containing the hardware in this plastic clamshell packaging.

The Zalman CNPS11X Extreme CPU Cooler

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Out of the clamshell you can see that the black framed fan with seven opaque blades is already screwed onto the front. The wiring is taped to the frame and you can see it terminates with a 4-pin connector for PWM functionality.

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From here you can see how the fins are angled from wide in the front to narrow in the back as they almost touch. You can also see that not only is there a black plastic cap over the fins; there is a similar one under them as well.

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Two things I wanted to show off with this are the center support made of aluminum that the top and bottom caps screw into and it supports the back of the fins for spacing. I also wanted you to see how the bends are made in each of the five plated heat pipes to make the transition from the base to the fins.

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Go ahead and blow this image up and give it your own fin count. I could be wrong, as one count was at 83, but two resulted in 82 fins, so that is what I am sticking to.

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The plastic cap on the cooler functions for a couple of purposes; one it makes for a much cleaner top to look at, and the other is it made a place to add this large "X" with CNPS11X in chrome over it.

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When I was going to take a shot of the base and mounting hardware, I noticed that you can now see a layer of plastic under the fan. This will add a bit of spacing, but I think the fan is screwed into a frame rather than the fins of the cooler at this point.

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Two things I really like to see in the base of this cooler. In the 10X coolers there were only Phillip's heads on the mounting screws, and I stripped mine. I love that the groove is cut for a flat head driver. Oh, yeah, and this finely polished black nickel coated, copper base plate!

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I was right, after pulling the fan screws, a screw in the cap and a pair on this face plate I was able to remove the fan and the top cove and expose this inner frame. The heat pipes are very tall and now I really appreciate that cap!

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I just thought this was a cool angle to look into the cooler from. I noticed at this time that the bottom cap also has the "X" logo, even though you will never see it. Running from the bottom to the top in the back is the thick black, extruded aluminum spacer to make the cooler a more solid unit when bolted down tightly.

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Since I had the fan removed, I figured I might as well get a shot from the inside and let you get a look at the specifications and part number on the sticker.

Accessories and Documentation

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There is quite a bit of hardware included, so I had to break it up a little. For this round we will show you the RC24P fan noise/speed reducer, a pair of tape backed foam rings, the loading block, a case badge, the ZM-STG2 and the installation wrench.

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From left to right we have the LGA1366 mounting screws; on the outside is a pair of mounting legs for AMD while on the inside are the Intel mounts. Centered there are the four side caps to lock in the "nuts" to the back plate. Above the nuts are the LGA775 - LGA1156 mounting screws - notice they are thinner than the golden 1366 screws.

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This is the universal back plate. It is all metal and receives a coating of black paint. To keep it from shorting on a motherboard, that is why they send the foam rings and loading block.

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The instruction manual comes with a full out parts list that is easy to read and make sure you have all your parts by checking against. With really good images and easy to follow text, I was able to get this cooler mounted for testing in no time. I did notice that when using the AMD mounting, the orientation leaves the fan running parallel with the long side of the AMD bracket. With a typical north/south screw location on AMD sockets, this will leave the cooler to blow out the back of your case - you aren't forced to have it blow upwards!

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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Testing on our TECC shows that this design is in fact, very efficient! The CNPS11X was capable of taking the fifth spot of all coolers, aside from custom water, that I have tested at these settings.

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With the load testing finished we can see that the CNPS11X drops a few of spots from fifth in idle results to ninth in this chart. The temperature is better than the 10X and if it had potential for two fans, it might keep up with some of those other dual fan coolers in the list.

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38 dB isn't amazing, but it is very good for the results we got in temperatures. As I mentioned, I'm guessing a total of 70CFM at maximum speed, so here I would take a stab and say these results are with 40-50 CFM.

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With the full 12V running through the fan, I got some really good results. 50dB at maximum is pretty good. The CNPS series is quiet by design and with this rating there was a hum in the air, but there isn't an ear numbing noise in any fashion.

Final Thoughts

Once in a while I have to eat my predictions, and here seems to be one of those occasions! Zalman has proved that I can't judge a cooler by size or stature. I give all my products a fair shake, but I really didn't see this one coming. While the CNPS11X wasn't a record breaker in any of the four charts, it did finish in the top ten in all of them, and there has to be some love shown for that fact. Usually we see a cooler offers great cooling, but the noise levels aren't so great - likely not good at all. On the flip side, we normally see a super quiet fan and the resulting temperatures leave something to be desired. Considering the footprint, design and the lack of annoying fan noise, I will happily eat my words and show as many people this cooler as possible.

Usually I start this paragraph off about where the manufacturer screwed up, or where things don't work quite right. Sorry to disappoint you, but I really have nothing to complain about here. With the last cooler I had causing me major mounting issues due to a stripped screw, I had to go and take the Dremmel to it to make a straight slot to allow me to use the cooler. I completely dig that Zalman has addressed this to make our lives easier. While I'm sure there are better fan options out there, I think the blue LED hub and clear blades that light up from said hub makes this fan is a good choice for both aesthetics and performance balance.

With nothing to complain about and the fact that this cooler does much better than average in our testing, how can I not recommend you go and get one of these? I do have to say, the $80 price point led me to believe that this cooler may have done a bit better. Considering the size of this cooler against what beat it, I have to say Zalman did a very good job on giving us the best efficiency they could with the limited space. If you don't have room for a D-14, or the HAVIK 140, and maybe the other coolers don't have that "original" look you are striving for, by all means, for the $79.99 pricing at I can't say you will be disappointed - more likely you will be impressed like I was with just what the CNPS11X is capable of.

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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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