A long time ago, on a PC that has long been sold, there sat an AMD 3800X2 939 processor under a stock cooler. That was about the time I was learning what overclocking was all about. The first bit of advice I got was to replace the stock cooler with something much more capable of handling what I was about to do. In that quest, being somewhat new to the scene, I opted for a cooler that was very cool in its day, and made completely of copper - it was quite stunning to look at on top of my DFI NF4 motherboard. If memory doesn't serve you so well, I am speaking of the CNPS9500 series coolers that back in the day came highly recommended, even if it was a bit of a finger slicer.
We have already seen that Zalman has made its own twin tower coolers before this one in the CNPS12X, CNPS9900A, 9900MAX and the 9900NT. While in the 9900 series of coolers, it doesn't exactly match the previously named examples. There are two major changes that have been made as the evolution of this series has progressed. First is the fact that there are two fans mounted to the top of the base plate where typically only one is present. The second is that the front half of the 9900 series tower design has been changed adding more surface area as well as it being somewhere it can take advantage of otherwise lost air flow.
The latest of Zalman's dual tower evolution brings us to the cooler we are looking at today, the CNPS9900DF. There are obvious design elements that will remind you not only of the Zalman history, but of the other 9900s in the lineup, as well as a few things that set it apart, making it well worth your time to at least give this cooler a more intrigued look into what it can do.
That being said, let's stop the chatter and dive right into the specifications and pricing to hopefully interest you enough to continue reading.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
Looking at this twin towered cooler you will find a full cooper cooler covered in dark black nickel. That means not only the base and the three 6mm diameter heat pipes, but all of the fins around it as well. The copper base is a two piece design like we are used to seeing from Zalman, where the top part unscrews from the plate to allow the mounting hardware to go in. As the pipes exit the base, they make some pretty tight bends as the composite heat pipes make their way around in a loop to deliver their heat to the radiating pattern of fins on each tower. The second tower is just like that found on other 9900 series coolers, but the front half has been changed to almost like that of the CNPS8900's, where the fins wrapped around the fan blades using the air that would typically just blow past the front of other designs when these open frame fans are used.
As for the included and pre-attached fans, you get two different sizes to beat the heat. In the front section you have a 120mm fan with a blue LED in the hub. This fan is capable of 1000 RPM and is powered with a 3-pin connection. The fan that rides in the middle and cools the back half is a 135mm fan with speeds of up to 1400 RPM and is powered with a 4-pin PWM connection. Zalman also includes a short Y-splitter for the CPU fan header on the motherboard with a 3-pin male and 4-pin male end to use so that you can power them both with the same header and control.
The last thing to cover is the motherboard compatibility. On the Intel side of things you can use any socket since LGA775 up to and including LGA2011. As for AMD, they eliminated 939 mounting and show compatibility for AM2 on through AM3+ and even include FM1 sockets. That pretty well covers the market and allows all kind of PC builder's access to this cooler.
As I went to hunt down the CNPS9900DF to get a price point I am finding they still are not available in the US, but it seems all of their other markets are already showing stock. I did a lot of conversions and found they weren't very favorable to US buyers, and then I thought to check my emails where I found that they want to deliver it on our side of the pond for around $80. It is definitely one of the more cost effective dual tower designs, so it has that going for it already, and you will soon get a glance at the looks, which I promise won't be disappointing, but we need to see how well it performs.
So let's do just that and see if the CNPS9900DF is a Dark Force to be reckoned with, or if it stands for Disappointing Failure. You be the judge.
The CNPS9900DF comes in a black box that the blue text really looks good on. That same blue is used in accent lines to attract the eye to the window allowing a view of the front fan and part of the fins. As for the rest of the panel they do mention twice that this is a dual fan cooler and I am pretty sure that is what the "DF" stands for.
Looking at the right side you can see the box is leaning a bit due to the hit to the lower right corner in transit. Aside from the dent, you get a large image of the CNPS9900DF with four smaller images showing off some of the features and accessories.
On the back of this box you get a list of eight features including things like it being high performance, mid-tower compatible, and that sexy black nickel coating. There is also a hole in the back that allows you to see the model number of the second fan on this cooler.
The left side of the box is mostly taken with an explanation of the composite heat pipes and why they were chosen. Under that will find a list of specifications for the technical information on the CNPS9900DF.
Opening the box you will find a cardboard insert that keeps the hardware that is now spilling out of the top from ever touching the cooler contained below.
Right out of the box you will find the CNPS9900DF inside of a form fitting clamshell packaging. This keeps the cooler centred in the box so that that dent we saw makes no difference to the cooler in any way. This layer of plastic is what makes the windows in the outer packaging as well.
I would have assumed that the clamshell would have been sufficient, but it seems Zalman went an extra step here. They also surround the fins in another layer of plastic to keep the cooler from even getting to the outer clamshell. I can tell you it works; this sample is in perfect condition.
Zalman CNPS9900DF CPU Cooler
After removing the inner plastic, and the foam from the fan, you can see that the CNPS9900DF arrived with all the fins pretty well in line behind the 120mm fan these fins surround.
From the side you can see how the fins on the left (front) actually surround the fan on its sides, whereas the second set of fins doesn't so there was room enough to set in the larger 135mm fan in the middle.
Looking at the back of the cooler you can see the fins not only radiate outward, but at the end they take a band to the right as well. Another thing to notice is while the front only has the one loop running through it, the smaller back section of the cooler has two.
You already know what the cooler looked like from the side, so I adjusted the angle a bit so that you can get a better idea of the leading edge design of the fins as this pair of fans tries to push through them.
The top part of the base is either aluminum or some sort of white metal used for two reasons. The first is to give a place for the pair of fans to be screwed down to, and the second is that it acts as the foundation for the mounting pieces that the base plate clamps down on.
The 120mm fan in the front is powered by the white, blue, and black lead with the 3-pin connector on it. The 135mm fan however receives the standard 4-pin PWM connection most motherboards come with.
This image isn't to show off the finish of the base. It was taken so that you could get a look at the Phillip's head screws you will need to back out to allow the mounting hardware in there.
This is the image to show off the base. Against a razor there is very little deviation in any direction and as you can see with the reflection of the ZM-STG2 on the finely polished, then plated base.
Accessories and Documentation
In a large bag from the hardware packed in the top of the box, you will locate this. There is the speed wrench on the left for mounting the cooler, the ZM-STG2, Intel mounting legs, AMD mounting legs, socket protector and pad, and a fan Y-splitter adapter.
In a smaller bag you can find the rest of the mounting hardware minus one last piece. Here there are the studs in the back that install into the back plate, three sets of mounting screws, a case badge, and the slide on locks for the studs in the back.
Just like we usually see for Zalman, we get the universal backplate that will use the studs and their locks to give you a secure and solid place to mount the cooler to.
The manual has little as far as flash is concerned with the drab white, black and grey used. Besides the rendering of the cooler at the bottom, there is a full compatibility list at the top of the front cover.
It kicks things off by giving you a list of things not to do, and gets followed up by the specifications. To make sure you are ready to install the cooler, compare your parts with this list to be sure ahead of time if you have all of the correct parts you need.
The rest of the manual is much like you see here. There are long descriptions of the steps and what is being shown in the accompanying images. Then again I didn't read too much, I was able to get the information I needed from the images, like exactly what way to mount the legs to the base of the cooler, images worked much better for that question.
Installation and Finished Product
The first thing I did was prepped the back plate. I installed the studs into the 1155/1156 mounting holes in the Intel legs. Then you slide the plastic sleeve over it to lock the stud and keep it from backing out and turning when you install the cooler.
Then I grabbed the Intel mounting legs, made sure they were bent the right way for proper mounting, then after loosening those screws, I slid them in and secured them. Now we are ready to get the CNPS9900DF mounted to the motherboard.
To help alleviate the issue of how to get to the mounting screws under a round cooler, this is how. The supplied Allen wrench has a speed ball end on it so that it can swivel out of the way and still secure the cooler. The screws must be hand started, and the wrench can be a little tricky at times, but it works.
If you run short memory like I do or something like the G.Skill RipJaw spreaders you can populate all four slots. If the memory spreader gets too tall it can easily end up conflicting with the front of this cooler.
Just to give you a bit of a perspective of what you will likely see through the case window as you looked in on the cooler. The CNPS9900DF looks larger than it really is as it leaves you room to connect the EPS 8-pin and doesn't even come close to a video card when installed.
I figured we started the review with a look at the CNPS9900DF much like this, it was only right we end with a similar image. Once powered there is a faint glow of the blue LED in the hub, even less at the end of the fins, I wasn't able to get a good image of it, but it is not as bright as the site and packaging images show it to be.
The Test System and Thermal Results
I would first like to thank HIS, GIGABYTE , InWin and AVADirect for supplying products for me to test with.
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.
Things don't start off for the CNPS9900DF that well. The stock and overclocked results are acceptable, but it doesn't keep up with the other dual tower cooler designs. At stock clocks I got a 28 degree reading, and with just slightly more voltage, with the overclock idling, it jumped two degrees.
The load results for the stock runs were really quite good at 51 degrees. Once the overclock was applied the results jumped 25 degrees to 76 degrees. It's not that great of a showing and puts the CNPS9900DF in the bottom ten coolers I have tested like this.
Noise Level Results
Part of the reason the temperatures were so high is that the move to achieve silence has won over the need for performance. With the CPU idling and 7.5V running to both fans I got a sound level result of 29dB, which is barely audible.
Sound levels do jump a bit when 12V is pushed to them, but even here they only come up combined to deliver 51dB of noise level. The nice thing is you have to be in front or behind it to get that level, from the sides it is much quieter, so once in a case this should be a very mild hum to deal with.
As much as I like the design, and the history it brought back to me seeing and using it, I have to be very objective here. For a cooler based completely of copper, to go through the work of plating it and adding the flash of blue LEDs, all to have mediocre performance levels from such a large cooler is a real shame. As much as I really want to like it, even trying to put a creative spin on it now, I am left really at a loss for words. There just isn't much outside of the aesthetics that I can really sell you on. While the audio levels are pleasing, the thermal results aren't good enough to warrant the purchase of this cooler over something you may have already picked up over the last three years or so.
Compounding the issue is little things. Like the fact that you send me a wrench, but the angle needed to use it left me rounding the heads of the screws and leaving fine metal bits stuck to the end of the wrench. On top of that as you tighten the screws, the wrench slips and will lock into the screw, and you are left hoping the metal shaving went flying past the motherboard. The dual fans are cool and all, but even here, a simple thing like a wire tie to tend to the wires with the open fans of this cooler would be a great help to users.
There are some good things to, this isn't a complete bashing of this cooler. The outer packaging is attractive and will get your attention. The inner packaging allowed my cooler to take a pretty solid hit and still arrive in perfect shape. The CNPS9900DF is also really easy on the eyes, and does make an attractive addition to a build, and it's even somewhat quiet. I just wish it would have done better in the thermals department, as then I would have been able to fully get behind this cooler and let you enjoy what a slightly smaller dual tower cooler could do for you. However getting beat out by smaller single towers with only one fan is just unacceptable for me to advise spending your money this way.
For most other markets, if you are still interested in the CNPS9900DF, they are on shelves now waiting for you to buy one. For our readers in North America, we have yet to receive them as I write this, but I would venture a guess that it won't be very long before they start to arrive. If the estimated pricing of $80 rings true when it does arrive, that is just a shame, At anything near the $50 mark I could forgive a bit of the excessive heat kept in this cooler, but for $80 they are demanding high-end pricing with a mid-range offering in my opinion, and I really think there are smarter choices out there for the discerning buyers out there.