Zalman has been around the block once or twice when it comes to CPU cooling or cooling anything in a computer. They have come a long way since the days when I was using the CNPS9500 to cool my AMD Opteron 170 CPU and the old VF700-CU on my ATI Radeon X850 XTPE. Exemplifying this is the newest entry to air cooling your CPUs with their latest entry to the market and it is a dual tower cooler as well. Following suit with the trend for silence in desktop computing, this dual tower comes equipped with a single 135mm fan to tend to the airflow, while hopefully keeping the cooler Ultra Quiet as its name suggests.
Just recently looking at the be quiet Dark Rock Pro 2, which was almost dead silent, as well as knowing that Noctua, Phanteks, Thermalright and all the others are capable of, Zalman has their hands full making a big name for themselves in a dual tower design.I already know that most of you are groaning at your monitor, asking yourself, how is a single 135mm fan geared for silence going to be able to handle the heat load of today's high-end CPU's? Well, Zalman makes the cooler with the potential to have three fans in a push/pull/pull fan configuration. While it is going to cost you some additional funds to get the extra pair of fans, the clips do come with the cooler in the hardware kit. So, with this sample to hit my desk, you have the choice of a ton of surface area and a single silent fan to keep temperatures manageable, or add another pair, lose a bit of the silent factor and keep temperatures under control.
The best thing about the Zalman CNPS14X that we are shortly going to get a really close look at is that Zalman boxed a pair of 135mm ZM-F4 fans so that I can not only see how this unit performs out of the box with the single fan, but I will also be testing with the triple fan configuration to see just how well this stands up to the likes of the Silver Arrow or the Noctua/Phanteks solutions.
That being said, let's see what this stylized monster cooler from Zalman is all about and dig right into the CNPS14X Ultra Quiet CPU cooler.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
I think for once I will start at the top of this cooler. The CNPS14X starts off with the 12 exposed ends of the six 6mm heat pipes. These pipes are left natural and between them is a black plastic spacer to keep the tower design square while adding a bit of style. Each side of the tower consists of 45 aluminum fins that are uniquely shaped and have a contour pressed into each fin to help disturb the air flow across them to improve efficiency. These fins are only press fit to distribute the heat from the pipes into the fins and to cool this dual tower, there is a clear ZP13525BLL 11 blade, frameless, 135mm fan.
The base of the CNPS14X is made entirely of copper with the six U-shaped heat pipes getting soldered directly to the top side of the base. The entire base is a two part system that also allows for hardware to be mounted, while offering a place for that clear 135mm fan to be installed. There are four Phillip's head screws that allow you to loosen the two pieces to slide in the AMD and Intel mounting brackets and if the black top cap is removed, taking those four screws all the way out will allow you access to the fan for maintenance. Even with a brand new idea, there are still some tell-tale parts of this cooler that just scream Zalman to me.
From what I can gather reading news posts, the CNPS14X just released this month and is why I cannot currently find it in the US. I am however picking up hits for various other countries currently stocking this cooler. Also from what I can tell, the MSRP was set at $50 for the CNPS14X and the translation from US Dollars to Pounds or Euros, it is a one to one deal. Good for the US market, not so much for the rest of you. Being one of the cheapest solutions out of the box, it does worry me a bit thinking it may not be able to keep up with the $80-90 solutions in dual tower coolers.
As always though, I will let the CPU testing do most of the talking, after we look at what $50 gets you in the cooler itself.
The front of the box starts at the top with a bright blue background behind the coolers name in chrome letters. Taking up most of the room is the image of the CNPS14X imposed over what appears to be a ball of blue flames. At the bottom there are notes to both the three fan compatibility as well as the LGA2011 readiness of this cooler.
Seven features are shown in eight languages. These cover the performance, the fan, the style of the cooler, along with a few others.
On the back Zalman starts out with a drawing of the CNPS14X from the top with three features listed to its right. In the middle, next to a view through this cooler, there are the other features listed on the last page too. At the bottom is where you can locate the specifications of the CNPS14X along with the company address and the bar code.
Here Zalman offers a rendering showing that the CNPS14X is capable of handling the mounting of three fans. Also note that these two fans with black frames are not included. At the bottom there is a full listing of compatible CPU sockets for both AMD as well as Intel.
Lifting the top flap of the packaging reveals the hardware just sort of floating around loosely. Mind you the smaller parts are in a zip locked bag with just the backplate sliding around to cause possible damage to the top of the cooler.
Setting the hardware to the side and removing all of the inner packaging, the CNPS14X was shipped setting on a thick layer of foam with a square cut in the center to allow the base to set into it just so slightly. To keep the cooler centred in the package, a piece of cardboard is cut to surround the heat pipes and it uses them to keep the cooler in one place. While it looks rudimentary, this packaging delivered a pristine sample to me.
Zalman CNPS14X Ultra Quiet CPU Cooler
Looking onto the CNPS14X from the intake side of the cooler you can see the six 6mm heat pipes get evenly spaced across the 45 fins. Also there is not a fan shipped for the front of the cooler, it's in the middle.
From the side you can definitely see the dual tower design. The U-shaped pipes have a thin stack of fins slid on them and the 135mm fan included with the cooler is pre-installed between them. That's right, not that it is a huge deal, but there is not a 140mm fan in this cooler, but I guess CNPS13.5X looks a bit funny.
The back of the cooler looks exactly as the front does, just this time we see the 4-pin PWM fan connection and wiring laying on this side.
Looking at it from the top, you first notice the black center cap that supports the towers spacing while also leaving room for the Zalman logo and CNPS14X seen on it. The fins have a very unique shape to them and all fins in the tower have the same designs embossed in them.
This shot was to show two things. One that the fins do in fact all have the designs embossed on them and the second was to show that there isn't solder on these fins, they are simply press fit over the pipes.
I was looking at how to remove the fan to show it to you and ran into the top plate that reminds me very much of the old 9500 I used to run. Back to the point, you don't have to remove these screws; there is a much simpler way to remove the fan.
Be removing the screws for mounting the brackets to the base, the entire top plate and fan assembly come right out. Do note that the top black cap must also be removed. Either way it shows the model number of this Zalman fan and it is clearly a 135mm by 25mm fan.
Since the top plate was out of the way, I thought I may as well give you a look at the sintered heat pipes as they are soldered to the copper base plate.
As for that copper base, well it is milled level, but the surface has fine curved milling lines from manufacturing. Also notice that the copper has gotten quite oxidized just in the time it took to arrive to me in the last month since its release.
Accessories and Documentation
The universal black plate works one of two ways. You put this side against the motherboard for Intel installations, but for AMD you flip the plate over and affix the other hardware for mounting.
In this image are the loading block, the four side caps and the nuts on the left. In the center is a pair of universal "clips" that also flip one way for AMD and the other for Intel installs. On the right is double sided tape and eight silver bolts, four for LGA2011 and four for the rest of the sockets with thinner shafts.
The last bit of the hardware kit includes the four wire fan clips for mounting additional, not included fans to the CNPS14X. You also get a Zalman sticker and a spanner, or on this side of the pond, a wrench for those silver bolts.
The user manual is very multi-lingual and if you pay close enough attention to the tiny images and follow the test really closely, you will eventually get both the brackets onto the base of the cooler correctly, as well as which way to orient the back plate. Either way, with the help the manual did have for this cooler, I eventually got the cooler installed correctly.
I mentioned that Zalman had sent a pair of fans so that I could do some three fan testing as well as how the cooler is shipped out of the box. They sent along a pair of black ZM-F4 fans, which are also 135mm in diameter.
The back of the packaging displays the features of the fan first and quickly moves into the specifications of these fans. At the bottom, there is an image of the rubber "screws" to mount this fan to a case and an image of how to do so.
In both fan packages you get a set like this as accessories. There are the four grey rubber mounting mechanisms for the fans along with a low noise resistor to use if you would like. The fans are already supposed to be silent; I don't think I will be lessening any RPMs for my testing.
Installation and Finished Product
Now that I had the fans open, I figured I would install them for a couple of images. This is more of a "well that looks cool like that" image. That is until I pulled out the tape measure.
The CNPS145X, when equipped in the push/pull/pull configuration is a full seven inches wide. Keep in mind that an ATX motherboard is less than ten inches wide; that doesn't leave much room for memory or connectivity.
I went ahead and loosened the screws to insert the mounting brackets into the base of the cooler. All you have to do from there is tighten things down and be sure the brackets are aligned with the screws and you are good to go ahead and finish the mounting of this cooler.
I don't believe in testing an oxidized cooler, so I went ahead and brightened the copper base back to new before I mount the CNPS14X on my test rig.
The back plate needs a bit of prep before getting underway with the installation. You slide the nuts through the holes for the socket of motherboard you have, lock them in place with the side caps and then I had to add the foam ring to keep the plate from touching the motherboard.
Once the back plate is in the socket holes of the motherboard, you set the CNPS14X on the CPU and grab those silver bolts and the spanner. Getting to them on this side wasn't all that bad, but the nuts on the side nearest the phase heat sinks definitely needed the spanner and patience to get this cooler mounted.
With the cooler mounted and the back plate where it will stay for a while, you can see that the holes drilled around the center allow for the socket screws to pass right through them. The foam pad rests on the socket plate in this instance, but with other sockets it will isolate the motherboard.
Running the CNPS14X as it arrives out of the box, plays well with the memory and allows a bit of room for even sticks with taller heat spreaders to populate all four slots.
Even from this angle you can see there is plenty of room for taller sticks. The bad thing is once you go to a three fan configuration; this room is quickly diminished, so keep that in mind if you have thoughts on adding a pair of fans to this cooler.
Stock, the CNPS14X doesn't take up a lot of room on the motherboard. You still have easy access to the 8-pin EPS plug, as well as removing RAM is very easy. Once the other two fans are on, adding the plug or messing with the memory in a case will get quite tricky without their removal first.
The last thing to consider with the CNPS14X is once you do go with the three fan configuration to try for the best results this cooler can offer, you will want to pick up a splitter or plan another means of powering these three separate fan power connections.
The Test System and Thermal Results
Testing for the CPU coolers is done with the use of RealTemp to ascertain temperatures, Intel Burn Test to deliver the load to the CPU and CPU-Z to verify the CPU speed and the voltage being used in Windows. All of the testing is done with an ambient temperature of 24.5-25°C and humidity is maintained to 35% sometimes less.For the "stock" runs, it's more of a plug and play setup where the PWM of the motherboard is in control of the fans speeds for both the idle and load results. Speed Step is active and the processor idles at 1600 MHz and loads at 3500 MHz for the stock settings. I also set the memory to run at 1600 MHz for stock. As for the overclocked runs, I load the CPU at 4.5 GHz and idle results are obtained with 7.5V to the fans while the load run is set to deliver 12V to the fans. This allows me to gauge the lowest and highest fan ratings for my charts.
The light green results are that of the single fan cooling the CNPS14X and at idle this cooler is right on par with the rest of the contenders. Adding the extra pair of fans, show in the normal green, results got a bit better, but we are just allowing the processor to idle.
With the stock clocks applied, both the single fan and the three fan runs were almost even and the CNPS does well at this end. Overclocking the processor is where the gap widens. There is a six degree difference between the way the cooler is shipped and let's say the way it is intended to be cooled. The triple fan results are very respectable, but out of the box the cooler is "meh" at best, even if it is quiet.
Noise Level Results
With the single fan cooling the CNPS at idle, a mere 30 dB is what gets reported. Adding a couple of fans did raise the noise levels, but that is due to the wire fan mounts and no isolation pads, or I think the 38 dB rating there could have been lower.
The same is found when we overclock the processor. With one fan it is near silent with a 46 dB rating, but when the three fans received 12V to them, the vibration also rose and I got a 59 dB rating with the vibrations and fans combined. Not exactly silent at this point, but it's a performance cooler with three fans, not a silent one.
There is really two completely different ways to approach what I am about to tell you. The first direction I want to go is the way the cooler ships out of the box. For around $50 you are in fact getting a silent cooling solution that is sort of a pain to install. Nevertheless, this twin tower design of the CNPS14X Ultra Quiet cooler is exactly that. The performance is what took the hit and almost got bested by the low profile and much smaller Noctua NH-L12. Even with the higher price of the Noctua fresh in your mind, it's almost the same performance for both sound and temperatures, but the mounting and space used in the case gives the overall edge to Noctua in this battle. Shame really for such a big cooler, I had higher expectations. Out of the box the CNPS14X makes me want to look elsewhere to cool my CPUs.
There is a flip side to all of that stock let down of the cooler and that is when I strapped on the additional fans. Using three 135mm fans to cool the towers brings the performance levels up and made for a six degree gap over the out of the box testing. While we are getting much better results, there are a few downsides here as well.The cooler may be tough to install in some cases, it overtakes the top half of the motherboard and will likely cause issues with most memory and I had to come up with a way to power three fans from the same header or I have wires running all over and that just looks tacky. The cooler is a bit tougher to install in this configuration and even with the wrench to give access to any sort of twisting of the bolts, it takes way too long to mount this cooler. On top of that, to get the performance we expect from a dual tower cooler, you will have to shell out another $20 - $30 for the additional fans raising the price of this cooler considerably and as I mentioned, there are much easier coolers to use that will deliver the same performance. It's really too bad too, because the CNPX14X does look damn good.
As a silent cooling solution, at stock levels this cooler does great, but I write for extremists and we overclock. Out of the box, the Zalman CNPS14X is lacking in headroom for such a large cooler. If you don't mind the installation process, the amount of room you lose and you have either naked sticks, low profile ones or minimal height to the heat spreaders, you are going to have issues, even more on LGA2011 with the memory on both sides. I would much rather they had included just a push fan and gave both fans more RPM and / or static pressure, so that it didn't have to be this enormous to perform that well.
Zalman's CNPS14X is certainly affordable and stylish, but as with most coolers something has to go and bottom line; out of the box, I just think there are better solutions to put your money into.
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