As most of you may know, when I build inside most HTPC or Mini-ITX cases, I tent to grab the Zotac powered motherboard with an Intel Atom processor for one main reason - the heat sink. Up until just recently, boards were few and far between for selections, even if I was to find the appropriate aftermarket cooler. There have been a couple that I can remember off the top of my head, one from SilverStone that was basically a shorter Intel stock cooler, the Samuel17, as well as a couple of others that the name slips my mind. Out of that group I would likely recommend the Samuel17, but today Phanteks is offering something that very well may change my mind.
With anything in the Small Form Factor market, the whole idea is to pack as much equipment as is physically possible inside of an area smaller than the box most shoes come in. Doing this to a chassis brings out some nuances let's say, that don't typically show up in the larger cases. Things like where the PSU is going to mount, or in the case of many others, can you fit a tower cooler inside of them either due to the PSU covering it, the roof of the chassis is too low, or the panels are too close. This leads many users to try to configure water loops inside of them, but until the BitFenix Prodigy case arrived, there weren't many good options for that, and on the air cooling side, even with the Samuel17, the cooler could cause issues with memory or the video card.
Today Phanteks has delivered what they think is going to handle these exact situations with ease. The PH-TC90LS is obviously a low profile cooler, but to stand 45mm tall, my gut reaction is that this is a stock replacement cooler with a bit more style and finesse. I found that I was only a third wrong. The PH-TC90LS is an attractive looking cooler with a bit of styling to make it a nice looking addition to any build really, not just SFF ones. The part I failed to realize, is even with one of the thinnest 92mm fans I have ever seen and only 27mm of base and fins to work with, this cooler can handle its business.
Even if you aren't in the market for a low profile cooler, the PH-TC90LS may still impress you enough to run this inside of any build it matches.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The low profile and compact nature of the PH-TC90Ls is expressed nicely with its 95mm square footprint, and the fact that without the fan, it stands only 27mm tall. The cooler consist of a very thick nickel plated copper base plate that has a raised section on it to make contact against the IHS of the CPU on the bottom. In the middle, between the plate and the fins, there are three 6mm heat pipes to help distribute the heat. On the top it has a "plus shaped" design of aluminum fins, 38 in total, with 12 of them being a bit shorter in width than the others. These fins stand straight up and are bent 90 degrees at the base so they could be soldered to the base plate and heat pipes. The fins are then interlocked for additional stability on the top, and offer a solid spot to add in the anti-vibration pads they send in the kit.
On top of the PH-TC90LS you have the option of running the included PH-F90 PWM Premium fan, and height allowing you to, I suggest you run with it. This fan is supported with an Updraft Floating Bearing to make the spin effortless and lengthen its lifespan. This 92mm fan is only 15mm tall and offers only a white ring where a typical fan frame should be. Spun on the bearing and somewhat protected by the ring, there is a white, nine bladed, sickle shaped hub that delivers the air flow. Speaking of, at 2500 RPM, this fan produces 28.67 CFM of airflow, 1.34mmH2O of pressure, and is rated at 26 dB(A) for the noise level while only drawing 3W of power. Combined, as I said, the height increases to 45mm in total, and the weight moves from 235 grams without it to 273 grams with it and the accompanying goodies are on it.
The PH-TC90LS is very fresh to the market. In fact, I was only able to locate one place in the States that is able to sell me this cooler. I found the listing over at Newegg for $34.99, and that isn't a bad deal at all. What makes it just that much sweeter is that currently the PH-TC90LS is shipping from there for free. Just with what we have covered so far, you can easily see how this cooler is made to fit a specific need, or Phanteks would have just made it much larger.
I think if you stick it out, you will be surprised like I am at the level of performance you actually do receive from this tiny cooler. The price just makes it that much easier to buy one.
On the top of the box you get to see a rendering of the PH-TC90LS as it is mounted on a motherboard. Just like with their other packaging, they chose to stick with the white packaging with black and grey highlights.
The front of the packaging offers a real image of the cooler inside as well as notations for the specific socket compatibility for Intel, and the PWM nature of the 92mm fan.
Spinning it to the right you run into this solid black panel with white text covering the specifications of the PH-TC90LS.
On the back is a statement about the technology involved with the Physical Antioxidant Thermal Shield, and the Cold Plasma Spray Coating applied to this and all of their coolers to help boost lifespan and performance.
The last panel is again black like the other side was, but this time we are covering the features found in, on, or around the PH-TC90LS. It covers the P.A.T.S., C.P.S.C., its low profile design, the PWM fan, ease of installation, and that they include a full sized tube of PH-NDC Nano-compound to use with it.
Inside of the cardboard there is a sandwich of dense foam supporting the cooler and all that ships inside. The bottom layer holds the cooler body, back plate, and hardware while the fan is in the middle and the paperwork comes on top.
Phanteks PH-TC90LS Low Profile CPU Cooler
Phanteks currently only offers these in white like you see here, and I'm not too sure if that will change. What you can see from this angle is that "plus shape" of the cooler I was talking about. This is due to the mounting being part of the base and the need to be able to run the screws through that area.
It is a bit tough to see with all the white on white in this image, but on this side, where the notches are in the base plate, there is the Phanteks name embossed in this fin.
From the side you can look through the arrangement of 38 thick aluminum fins. You can see how the bottoms are bent to make contact, and if you look closely in the gaps you can see tiny solder balls from when the attachment is made.
The way you are told to install the PH-TC90LS this is the top of it. I guess since it is unlikely that you will get a view of this side, there was no need to have their name on both sides of the cooler.
On this last side I angled the PH-TC90LS just a bit so that you could see the notches cut in the center 16 fins to allow a place for the wire fan mounting system to clip into the cooler to secure the fan.
Under the PH-TC90Ls, it seems that the contact area is a separate entity that is soldered to the blast that will also hold the hardware in place. I have to assume this is a cost savings measure, as soldering metal together is much cheaper than milling this base as one piece, even though a solid piece would transfer heat much better.
Continuing to complete the cooler, I got into the hardware box to grab the pair of anti-vibration strips so that they could be installed on the edge of the fins where the tabs support each other.
Then after a bit of fiddling with the fan mounting hardware, I was able to simple clip the sires into the sides of the PH-TC90LS. Now all I need to do is mount it to the motherboard and we can see how well it does.
Looking at the cooler from the top, you can see that even if the mounting was done another way, the fan would still not have covered the fins even if they had come all the way to the corners. The fan does a great job of covering the surface area provided, even if one of the smallest fans I have seen for a cooler.
Accessories and Documentation
To start things off I figured I should show the white box that is shipped in the bottom, next to the cooler, that contains all the provided hardware. Also since this is for LGA1155/1156 and LGA2011 only, you get only one back plate for the first two, as 2011 screws right to the socket.
Along with a full sized syringe of the PH-NDC compound, the rest of the hardware consist of two sets of screws for mounting the PH-TC90LS to the boards, and the third bag contains the wire clips, anti-vibration pads, and the push clips for the fan holes.
The 92mm fan is powered with a 4-pin PWM connection and has a very short lead on it. As for the fan frame, as you look around it, you can see the large holes the clips go in so that you can use the bent wires to mount it.
Just in case you need to replace yours, and to verify there wasn't any typo's on the website, you can see we are given a PH-F90TS fan to cool this low profile cooler. To help keep it low, this 92mm fan, blades, ring, and all are all only 15mm tall.
The instructions are a one side thing. As you can see when they are unfolded, I have the German and English instructions to mount the cooler shown here.
When you flip over the instruction sheets you can see that we now have Italian and Spanish directions. No matter the language, the instructions are easy to follow, and if you can't read, the images will get you through it. Then again if you couldn't read you wouldn't understand this anyways.
Installation and Finished Product
Since the back plate uses a riser and raised nut system, once you pass the studs through the motherboard, the board will bottom out against risers. This keeps the back plate from touching and eliminates the need for a plastic or foam spacer.
As the instructions say, I found the two cut-outs in the base and made sure to install that closest to my video card. Being completely square I don't see the reasoning, but I did as instructed anyways.
Mounting the PH-TC90LS is as simple as adding the four screws, and securing them to the back plate. Right about the time you run out of room to fully compress the spring, the threads run out stopping you when it is mounted correctly.
With the compact design of this cooler, it easily leaves all four memory slots open, and in no way will have issues with even the tallest of RAM heat spreaders.
Just to give you a bit more perspective on exactly how tall this cooler is once mounted to the board, I got as low as I could to show what can actually be seen over the memory. Anything taller here and the cooler virtually disappears.
Form this angle you can see that there is little to no reason this won't fit on any motherboard with any configuration, as long as you have the correct socket. It does take up all the room it can, but it misses all of the heat sinks, leaves the memory slots open, and doesn't even come close to the video card.
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.
While not exactly the greatest start for a 130W TDP cooler with only a 95W CPU being used at stock levels, but even so 34 degrees is very acceptable for the design, size, and limited cooling that a 92mm by 15mm fan can produce.
As far as the load temperatures go, they aren't stellar on this list because of the competition I put it against. It is 11 degrees hotter than the NH-L12 at stock clocks, but this has only one fan and is less than half its size.
Again, put into the right perspective, the PH-TC90Ls is up to the challenge of most SFF builds. I did try to overclock to the 4.5GHz setting I used, but before the first round of the test could finish I was at levels I didn't like (as in rushed to shut down before I throttled the CPU), nor is the cooler really built for it, but I had to try and report my findings.
Noise Level Results
Something that really is stellar on the PH-TC90LS is the fan included with it. Verifying the RPMs during the testing, at around 1050 RPM I got the result of 26dB. Considering what I remember of 80 and 92mm fans from the old days, this is much better than what most will offer.
Even when I added 12V to the fan, as in forced it in BIOS not to use the PWM controls, I verified the fan speed at 2434 RPM, and I still only got a 33dB result. So not only do we get a truly compact cooler that can handle its business, we also get one that can do it all silently and not distract you while say watching a movie.
Normally I wouldn't start out with the complaints, but the issue I have is something I think may have just been overlooked, but none the less needs addressed, in my opinion. It isn't even the cooler, it is the fan chosen to go with it. I get why the fan is open, it lets in the maximum amount of undisturbed air into the cooler, giving that 15mm thick fan every chance it has to cool such a small area of fins. Where the problem lies is on the sides and even across the top.
While the ring around the blades is more for structural support, it does almost nothing for keeping the wires out of it. Considering this is meant to go in a SFF chassis, where wire management is challenging at best, I can see this fan stopping dead and things getting warm really fast. In fact, on the test rig, I got up to go in the other room, came back and found the bend I put in the fan wire had gotten lose and stopped my fan taking the idle temperature up to 55 degrees, and mine is an open air system. Imagine if it had been in the FT03, for example. I know that the CPU will throttle to combat this issue, but who wants to find that out the hard way that any rouge wire could considerably increase heat in an instant.
Flipping the coin, there are some good things to go with, too. The size of the cooler is great. It will fit in any chassis the motherboard will. You saw the image looking over the memory; it's just the fan that stands above anything else on the board, and even then its 15mm more at the worst. I like the white color so that the heat sink doesn't disappear on the motherboard, there is no doubt the bright white of the PH-TC90LS will make this a very recognizable cooler. I was really impressed with the noise levels that I got when using it as well.
To be honest, the temperatures weren't all that great. Putting things into perspective is what this is about though, and for its size and limited air flow into the cooler, I am impressed with the results I got. The last thing that really will win over any user is the absolute simplicity of the mounting system. The back plate is ready to go, just slap it on the back and flip the board over. Add four screws and tighten in a revolving X pattern and that is, its installed.
With limited availability, there isn't the option to shop around. With only Newegg showing me they have then for sale at $34.99 right now, that's it, you either like their price, or you don't buy one. I think the pricing is completely justified, though. Even with my personal vendetta against the fan, I still have two options. Deal with it as I did to get through the review and make sure when I use it in a rig that I pay special attention to the wiring, or I can try any 80 or 92mm fan that I want, the hardware still works, and I may even see better temperatures, but I know it is going to be hard to beat the silence that the PH-TC90LS from Phanteks delivered.
For anyone media streaming to a small box in the living room, anyone infatuated with the smallest of Mini-ITX cases, or even those that just want some flash where the stock cooler is currently still sitting, you definitely need to try out one of these to appreciate what it's all about.